“Remember, there is no “I” in Team America.”
How timely that, just as Alec Baldwin announces his decision to leave the public eye, we watch a film that completely, utterly, and entirely rips him – and a substantial number of other actors, it must be said – to shreds. Of course, it’s not just actors that come under the firing line here; almost everyone is insulted at some point. That’s the beauty of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who manage to make fun of everyone in crude, juvenile, immature ways – yet somehow the result is not only inoffensive, but quite astute. Team America: World Police, a sometime musical and love letter to the Thunderbirds style of puppetry, is typical Parker-Stone fare, political yet stupid, crude and clever, and best known for two things: Kim Jong Il singing “I’m so Ronery” in his vast mansion; and the puppet sex scene. Having seen the film multiple times, the novelty has worn off but my appreciation still remains. And, honestly, the puppet sex is still rather funny.
Despite the opening sequence featuring a clever puppet show within a puppet movie, there is little acknowledgement of the film’s distinctive creative choice, to its benefit. Its visual absurdity is made all the more ridiculous because of this, and there’s such pleasure to be had from the simplest of actions – the puppets bouncing off screen instead of walking, the secret signal (frantic arm waving) to get actor extraordinaire Gary out of the clutches of the middle eastern terrorists. There are sight gags a-plenty, perfectly matched with a script that is equally as funny, and just as daft. Despite the literal small scale of the film’s production, Team America is also easily one of the largest, most destructive disaster movies around – Michael Bay must be so jealous. Just consider how much destruction occurs thanks to the incompetence and sheer arrogance of the team – how many landmarks get obliterated. Of course, it’s hardly a unique gag, making the “heroes” more dangerous to humanity than the bad guys they’re trying to stop, but undoubtedly it works.
Team America‘s plot blends political satire with general crudeness – the team exist to stop terrorism and, armed with a vast arsenal and a general conviction of their authority and greatness, aim to rid the world of a random assortment of foreign enemies. Needing someone to infiltrate one of the terrorist cells, they enlist the help of Broadway actor Gary, who begrudgingly dons some brown face paint, a smattering of facial hair and, with an actual towel on his head, convinces the terrorists he’s one of them. Their conversation – a wonderfully offensive interpretation of random Middle Eastern dialects – is one of the most quotable moments in the film. Of course, soon it transpires that these baddies are merely… puppets… (haha!) and the true villain of the piece is none other than Kim Jong Il, then leader of North Korea. It’s a perfect choice of enemy; Jong Il remains, even in death, an enigma. In fact, the film is perhaps even more interesting when viewed today – I wonder when Parker and Stone will turn their sights onto the dictator/ great leader’s son, who is just begging to be parodied by the irreverent pair.
It’s not just foreign powers that get ripped – Parker and Stone never forget about their home country. Given their penchant for attacking Hollywood, it’s unsurprising that actors bear the brunt of the pair’s comedic wrath; Jong Il at least gets a sympathetic musical number to justify his desire for global domination, but Alec Baldwin gets no such excuse. The Film Actors Guild (most frequently referred to as FAG, conveniently) features a great array of actors convinced of their own self-worth beyond the big screen – Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and a mentally challenged Matt Damon (among others). It all culminates in an epic showdown that, while impressive, doesn’t quite match the carnage of the film’s opening scenes.
By the end the joke does, perhaps, wear a bit thin, but for fans of Parker and Stone’s cleverly crude humour, it’s a blast. Their ability to reduce even the most complex of ideas to toilet humour and cock jokes is to be commended – and I mean that completely sincerely. Team America: World Police marked a significant transition in the pair’s careers, hinting at their future desire for Broadway success (which they achieved when they brought The Book of Mormon to the stage – if you’ve not seen it, it’s superb) and demonstrating their sometimes uneasy relationship with the rest of the film industry (it’s perhaps telling that Gary’s acting does actually save the day in the end) and their home country (despite their arrogance and obliviousness, Team America are the film’s heroes). Like the later series of South Park – particularly those around Obama’s election – Team America proves that Parker and Stone have their finger firmly on the pulse of current affairs, and in the decade since this film was released, it remains just as relevant, just as crude, and just as funny.