Sunday, October 17, 2004

Movie: Team America: World Police (2004)

The Trey Parker/Matt Stone puppet smackdown joins this year’s already lengthy list of major disappointments. I didn’t like this movie for a simple reason: it’s not funny.

I’m a big fan of SOUTH PARK, but even fans have to admit that the show is wildly erratic. Some episodes don’t have enough material to last 22 minutes, so sustaining a story for the length of a feature poses a challenge for the boys. ORGAZMO, CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL and BaseKETBALL (which they only starred in) have their moments but run out of gas long before the end. Only the SOUTH PARK movie, which I revere, works, for a reason that I’ll get to.

Let’s dispense with the politics up front. Parker and Stone are asserting that TEAM AMERICA is more a send-up of movies that current events. I’d take that line, too, if my satire was as unfocused as theirs is.

Some critics have taken them to task for not aiming at the right, which is both foolish and wrong. Foolish because there’s no such thing as equal opportunity satire, and wrong because the movie’s entire premise is an attack on shoot-first-ask-questions later foreign policy. Just not an amusing one. Team America takes out global landmarks while battling the evildoers. It’s not that funny the first time, less so with each repetition.

Parker and Stone squander far too much time on the minor phenomenon of actors speaking out on political issues. And they aim at the wrong target: sure, the actors have outsized egos, but it’s the network pinheads who put them on the air. Alec Baldwin and his ilk deserve to be mocked. They also deserve better jokes than Parker and Stone come up with.

Suppose we buy Parker and Stone’s claim that TEAM AMERICA is a parody of action movies, specifically Jerry Bruckhemier’s. That was the project’s genesis, long before the war on terror gave it additional relevance. Mel Brooks has said that you have to love the thing you mock. That’s why SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT was a triumph. Parker and Stone clearly love musicals and poking holes in their conventions. It’s equally clear that they detest the genre they’re sending up here, so their barbs aren’t specific enough to draw blood. Combine this with their political point of view – which boils down to “Everybody shut the hell up” – and the result is a movie fueled entirely by bile and negative energy. Which is a chore to sit through.

There are a few good laughs, most of them playing off the limitations of an all-marionette cast. I find both puppet sex and puppet vomiting to be very funny. The movie’s sets are insanely detailed and shot by Bill Pope with a sheen that would earn Bruckheimer’s approval. And I liked their take on Kim Jong-Il, a combination of Cartman and Dr. No. Make sure you stay through the credits to hear his final song, which gets to the bottom of some unanswered questions.