Team America: World Police (2004) — MATT DAMON!

“Gary, you can’t blame yourself for what gorillas did.”

Clare’s rating: The Thunderbirds meet South Park… f*%& yeah!

Clare’s review: Team America: World Police is an all-marionette action movie that roasts, thoroughly, all the tired conventions of lame-o action movies that make buttloads of money at the box office but that actually, in reality, suck. It’s also a very broad social satire about American foreign policy, our national identity, and the seemingly non-stop cult of personality our nation’s actors and celebrities get donned with upon their arrival in Hollywood. On paper, it sounded like an excellent premise for a film.

Add to this the fact that it’s also directed, written and voiced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone whose other work I have long been a rabidly appreciative fan of and you can understand why I walked into Team America: World Police fully confident that I was in for a couple of good laughs.

I was wrong. It wasn’t good for a couple of laughs. It was good for one very long laugh that lasted for 105 minutes. Seriously.

I’ve given it a lot of thought. And while I will be the first to say it’s not a perfect film and also that it’s certainly not for everyone, I would like to go on record as saying that, for my money, it’s the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. I know, I know. That’s a bold statement to make about a puppet movie. Heck, that’s a bold statement period.

But I honestly, and after much reflection, can’t think of another movie that has made me actually fear for my own health and well-being because I was laughing so hard. The only other movie I can think of that even came close was Parker and Stone’s previous outing of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. But I digress.

On to the other worldly hysterical laughing I mentioned.

My husband nearly knocked himself unconscious throwing himself bodily onto the floor of the movie theater laughing within the first five minutes of the film. He told me afterwards that he hit the deck because he thought that maybe if he couldn’t actually SEE the screen any more he’d be able to stop laughing long enough to pull himself together. It’s been almost a full week since I saw the movie and I still find myself giggling about certain parts of it randomly as I’m driving down the street or brushing my teeth. I have every intention of going to see it again (and again and again) because I know for a fact that I missed parts of it that were funny because I was still busy laughing at the last thing that happened that was funny.

What I find most impressive about it is that it’s funny on about 16 different levels. So no matter what kind of humor you’re into, there’s SOMETHING in Team America: World Police that will make you laugh.

Besides the fact that it’s fricking hilarious, it’s also really impressive from a technical standpoint. Those damn marionettes aren’t exactly easy to navigate. And some of the shots and set ups they had to construct in order to get it to look the way it did borders on miraculous. There are also lots and LOTS of really cool and hard-to-catch details in the sets, the costumes and the background action of the film.

So even if I’ve totally miscalculated and you actually find Team America to be a total bore, you’ll at least have fun distracting yourself by playing “What the hell is that thing back there?”

I don’t really trumpet movies loudly from the rooftops much these days. But I’d be a serious loser if I didn’t wield my mighty and omnipotent power as a Mutant Reviewer to tell anyone and everyone who will listen that Team America: World Police is brilliant, shockingly well made, utterly engrossing and, most importantly, so funny I made a huge spectacle of myself in a public place laughing my ass off for the ENTIRE MOVIE.

Go see it. Now.

Lissa’s rating: Team America: Um, yeah.

Lissa’s review: I have now learned why Kyle might have thought “Describe your average trip to the movies” an interesting question.

Here in the suburbs of Philly, the movie theater is just that: a movie theater. It has a popcorn stand that sells overpriced, overbuttered popcorn and candy, 24 theaters, and there’s a Lowe’s and a Target nearby. But when we were out in San Francisco on vacation, we decided to see a movie and almost got lost when we entered through the doors. Restaurants, shops, rental places… it was like a mall or a shrine built to the movie ritual. It was amazing, and it was really hard to actually find our theater. But we did. Lucky for us. (Note the sarcasm.)

I have decided I am either a soulless bitter being with no sense of humor or a political idiot because I just did not find Team America: World Police all that funny. Duckie was cackling away next to me (I thought it that could have been gloating at the amount of money the movie made him in the Hollywood Stock Exchange, but he says no), and the rest of the theater seemed to be enjoying it. But for about four-fifths of the movie I kind of sat there covering my eyes the way I do when I’m embarrassed.

It wasn’t because Team America: World Police was bad — it’s not Lost In Translation bad or anything where I thought everyone involved should be shot or at least excommunicated. In fact, there were good parts. It just disappointed me.

I’m not much into crass humor. It comes from my older-sister-look-how-much-more-mature-I-am-than-you way of coping with sibling rivalry, I think. But to my surprise, I loved — absolutely LOVED — South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Except for one particular joke which carried way too far (Stan’s quest), I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I was expecting similar results from Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone on their newest outing. Oh well.

Duckie points out that they put this together in a very short period of time (although I note Clare contradicts that). Either way, the time excuse didn’t fly at my doctoral defense, and people didn’t have to pay 10 bucks a head to get into that, so I ain’t buying it for a movie. And Wag the Dog was filmed in 20-something days, and it kicked butt. So the little time is a lame duck of an excuse.

What South Park: BLU had and Team America: World Police lacked was subtlety. Example: the parody factor. South Park: BLU had some brilliant parodies. There was the send-up of the Star Wars computer, Satan doing the Little Mermaid thing, the spoof on Les Mis… it was awesome.

Team America: World Police (what DO they have with those colons, anyway?) sent up the big budget action movies, but it was different. For one, the characters just said clichéd lines in overly dramatic voices. Funny… but for the first five minutes. But where was the creativity with that? Sure they did that in South Park (see the Mole’s death), but it was short. What was it my nemesis said? Brevity is the soul of wit? For once, he was right. Don’t beat a joke into the ground like that — it’s not funny.

The other disappointment was the songs. Like any good Mutant, I adore the soundtrack to South Park: BLU, and had to rush right out and buy it. Some of the songs in Team America: World Police were witty, but they weren’t like South Park. They had funny lines, but they were missing the sharp, bright, original wit that made the South Park soundtrack so absolutely memorable.

Team America: World Police had its good moments, don’t get me wrong. But it just wasn’t what I was expecting, and left me completely lukewarm. Oh well. Better luck next time, boys!

Kyle’s rating: No, seriously, where’s the real movie? What? Oh, man…

Kyle’s review: Seeing Team America was very similar to my experience seeing Falling Down on opening day with my parents. All of us were going to see Falling Down together, then dad and I were off to Army of Darkness while mom saw The Crying Game. An interesting double-feature for all of us, to be sure, but at the time we thought Falling Down was going to be really funny. That’s how it was being advertised, after all, so how could we have known the dark non-humor in store for us? As we walked out of the theater, before heading off to our second films, we all blurted simultaneously: “Was that supposed to be funny?”

I went to Team America on my own. My morning plans had fallen through and I was near the theaters, so I took it as fate that I should see TA on opening day. Perfect! Yet there I was, leaving that first showing, going up to talk to Employee of the Decade Al and saying “Was that supposed to be funny?”

It seems like an essential part of loving TA is being extraordinarily impressed by the all the puppets and puppetry. But I’m a real *insert expletive of choice here* because I like “Yeah, complicated puppetry, great. Where’s the funny?” I had certainly heard about the hard, exhausting work Matt Trey and Stone Parker and whoever put into making the film. So? Hearing about the work and the South Park guys’ involvement put me in the seat; the film and the humor should have should got me laughing. Nope. All the hard puppet work must’ve tired them out for the writing stage.

I laughed at some stuff. Parts are stupid funny, clichéd and predictable as they may be. Some other stuff, like the “d*cks-p*ssies-*sses” speech, was marginally funny to begin with but elicited undeserved laughter from me just because I was desperate to laugh at anything. Maybe you’ll be super-amused, and I’m just dumb. But don’t get your hopes up.

Sorry I can’t be more enthusiastic. I feel like I should apologize, since some love Team America so much it’s crazy! But I can’t enjoy a lazy film that thinks two minutes of a puppet vomiting is brilliant fun. It’s worth seeing to make the decision for yourself, but as far as I’m concerned they better keep making South Park for the rest of their lives and leave other aspirations to those Puppetry of the Penis folks. Yeah!

Justin’s rating: You killed Kenny! I saw you, don’t deny it!

Justin’s review: The main reasoning behind my Rule of Two (stating that you should watch a movie at least two times to form a lasting opinion of it) is that initial viewings of films are often highly influenced by the circumstances surrounding you watching it. That’s how you can be in a bad mood and end up sort of disliking a really great film that you’ll rediscover years later, or how a group of hyena-laughing friends might convince you that Freddy Got Fingered was a comedic masterpiece.

I say this again because this might apply to this particular film. My first run-through of Team America: World Police was a decently average experience — humorous, somewhat entertaining, but no means the Funniest Joke In The World that some have reported it to be. However, with a group of nitrous oxide-primed friends, I can see TA:WP being a laugh riot. Or, it might just be that party movie that would tip a suicidal friend over the edge into oblivion with its badness. I’m not sure. It just failed to make a good first impression, and there’s no way I’m going to let Team America take my daughter out to prom after that lackluster introduction.

Team America is both a parody and a satire. The parody is as blindingly obvious as Michael Bay’s in-your-face cuts: This movie is full-on mocking the rapidly paced, intellectually void action films of Jerry Bruckheimer and his inbred relatives. From the ever-present fireball explosions — which makes me wonder, exactly, how many of the world’s buildings are constructed of gasoline — to the cocky, surefire attitudes of perfect heroes, Team America calls foul on the parade of action movie clichés that you and your friends always whine about.

The satire is more devious, and more clever. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame are really skilled in the art of creating biting satire and then lavishing it with poop and vomit jokes. While they’ve put me off in the past on occasion, what I like about them is that they’re equal opportunity offenders, using comedy extremes to mock all sides and hopefully steer the audience towards a rational center.

The satire here jabs at America’s self-centeredness in world affairs, but carries it further than a Michael Moore-type rant. Stone and Parker extend the mockery to the viciousness of certain North Korean dictators, the emasculation of the U.N., and (much to my delight) the pompous attitudes of certain Hollywood celebs that figure since they “play pretend” for a living, they are experts on politics and can shove their opinions in all of our faces.

I figure what’s really eating at Stone and Parker isn’t so much politics as it is people being jerks. This coming from a couple people who have, on many occasions, shown us what enormous jerks they can be, it’s amusing but still valid. Whether it’s coming from the right, the left or the center, arrogant self-centeredness is prevalent in our hyper-media culture — and what’s worse is how much we eat it up and ask for seconds.

Anyway, back to the film. Team America: World Police stars a bunch of puppets (marionettes, to be precise) who see their mission as to defend America and the world from the evils of terrorism. I don’t really know any other filmmakers that could equally get away with making 9/11 and AIDS jokes, but we’ve arrived at that dubious nirvana here. Spoofs abound, from Top Gun to Star Wars, and you’ll be amazed that puppet sex, when examined with an open mind and a careful eye, can look just like a kid learning about the birds and bees by playing with dolls.

You’d expect any middle-of-the-road movie review to list a group of good and bad items, but I don’t have the heart to subject you to that sort of lackluster analysis. I think my main complaint with Team America is that for all of its snark, it really could have been much funnier.

This partly has to do with the marionettes themselves. While I won’t argue that putting together this film was a unique challenge of grotesque proportions, marionettes didn’t quite do it for me. Their facial expressions are severely limited, and repeatedly I’d look at a puppet reacting silently and wonder what, exactly, it was supposed to emote. Animation or claymation would have been much better for this purpose.

Plus, when I can identify dozens of missed opportunities for follow-up sarcastic jokes, then something’s off. Team America plays a lot of scenes straight, which is funny in its own way, but it could’ve used a lot more self-referential dialogue to bolster the laughs.

That said, there’s vast plunders of comedic treasure to be found, including hilarious songs and celebrity massacres. Not many films are daring enough to delve into the loneliness of ruthless dictators, and in song no less, and Team America gets the silver star of effort for trying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s