Whilst this gleeful satire on the “War on Terror” featuring marionettes instead of actors has some hilarious moments, the film as a whole doesn’t quite match the brilliance of the initial concept.
When the trailers first appeared for Team America: World Police it seemed that Matt Stone and Trey Parker (the creators of South Park) had managed to achieve the impossible. They had seemingly convinced a major Hollywood studio (Paramount) to fund a riotous satire on the foreign policy of the current US administration – with puppets. Could it be true? Given the current political climate Stateside you would think it unlikely at best. And you would be right. Well, sort of. Whilst the the film does take aim at the patriotic fervour lying at the heart of recent conflicts it also reserves plenty of venom for the liberals who have denounced such adventures.
The film opens with Team America (an anti-terrorist squad) foiling a terrorist plot in Paris and yet still managing to destroy large swathes of the city. When one of them is killed their leader, Spottswoode, decides to recruit a new member who he thinks will be able to infiltrate terrorist cells more easily. They turn to an actor called Gary and although initially reluctant he proves a success after a mission in Cairo results in the usual destruction and mayhem. The evil mastermind funding the terror turns out to be North Korean leader Kim Jong Il who shows all the ruthless and cunning of a Bond villain, whether it be dispatching UN weapons inspectors to his pet sharks or convincing Hollywood actors that he actually wants world peace. The actors (none of whom are voiced by their real life counterparts) include Tim Robbins, George Clooney and Alec Baldwin and they are critical of Team America’s clumsy tactics.
On paper Team America looks inspired and parts of it are extremely funny. The opening in Paris, an outrageous sex scene and some foul mouthed musical numbers all hit the spot. The puppet work and production design is also excellent, making no attempt at realism and thus increasing the laughs. But the film doesn’t quite live up to it’s potential. Too often the gags are just repetitive and the satire is a tad lopsisded. The Hollywood liberals all blend in to one and are fairly one dimensional (maybe that is the joke but it become tedious through repetition). In contrast, the best character in the film and the most consistent source of belly laughs, is Kim Jong Il. Sounding like Cartman and looking disturbingly like the real life dictator he is a brilliant creation, bitching about Americans and singing songs about how lonely he is. It would have been fun to see more political figures (Bush, Blair, Saddam etc) lampooned in the same way, although given the current climate maybe not possible.