Team America’s Free Fire Zone

A refreshingly vulgar satire of the usual puppets on screen.

By Steve Burgess 18 Oct 2004 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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Team South Park, God bless ‘em, are determined to yank every chain. Team America: World Police, the great new comedy from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is guaranteed to test your patience, no matter what your taste.

The basic joke behind Team America needs no explanation to anyone familiar with the beloved 60s TV series, Thunderbirds. Anyone else is bound to be thoroughly puzzled by Parker and Stone’s decision to do a cheesy puppet movie. But they’ll probably laugh too, when not cringing in disgust.

The very existence of Team America: World Police is itself a devastating critique of standard Hollywood filmmaking. An abysmal major-studio Thunderbirds movie appeared this summer, inexplicably done in live action (“I guess because the stories were so great,” Parker sniped in a recent interview). Now along come independents Parker and Stone to show them how it’s done.

Tangled lines

The determinedly standard-issue plot tells of a crack anti-terrorist team that circles the world fighting Osama Bin Laden look-alikes while generally destroying every famous landmark they encounter. Team America: World Police takes full advantage of the heavy fromage factor that makes Thunderbird reruns so entertaining. The filmmakers coax unforgettable performances out of their stringed plastic thespians, tangled up in romantic difficulties and the constant struggle to keep at least one foot on the ground while walking.

Team America is not strictly a Thunderbirds parody—its primary target is jingoistic, Jerry Bruckheimer-style action films, a point made explicit in the tender love ballad “Pearl Harbor Sucked (And I Miss You).” (“Why does Michael Bay get to keep making movies?” croons the singer plaintively.) The movie’s main musical theme is “America (Fuck Yeah!),” a stirring anthem Bruckheimer only wishes he could feature. I guarantee you that there will be patrons of this movie who will adopt this catchy tune without irony.

But when Parker and Stone make movies, no one gets off easy. Those who smirk knowingly as Team America destroys the pyramids and the Eiffel Tower in pursuit of George Bush-style justice may find themselves squirming at the depiction of the Film Actor’s Guild (a.k.a F.A.G.). Alec Baldwin leads a group of Hollywood liberals like Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Samuel Jackson—none of whom participated in the movie—spouting empty drivel while acting as the willing stooges of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (who also declined to cooperate with the filmmakers).

Nobody’s safe

While most viewers will perceive that Parker and Stone are simply parodying the right-wing view of Hollywood liberalism, there are genuine zingers scored. Puppet Sean Penn gets weepy as he describes his visit to Saddam Hussein’s former paradise-on-earth. Also designed to inspire liberal harrumphing is the Broadway musical “Lease,” with its boffo number “Everyone Has AIDS.” Stay till the end of the closing credits and you’ll be rewarded with the epic melody, “You are Useless, Alec Baldwin.”

Piercing p.c. attitudes is only one way Parker and Stone test their audience. The duo is inordinately fond of scatological humour. Thus the standard “Our-hero-has-hit-bottom” alleyway sequence (“You’ve given up on life, haven’t you?” shouts a woman from a window) is driven home with a never-ending vomit scene. Similarly, the movie’s climactic speech ensures that, even if you could frantically slice and dub the rest of it, this movie will never be shown on television. (And yet there were numerous folks who brought their kids to the preview. Well, it’s an education of sorts.)

Parker and Stone bring to Team America the same liberating comedic anarchy that characterized the movie “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” This outing does not have the same impact as that great cinematic slap—Kim Jong Il’s sad ballad “I’m So Lonely” is amusing but also reminiscent of Satan’s lovelorn lament in the South Park film—and many will be put off by Parker and Stone’s gleeful celebration of the sophomoric. But for anyone craving another “Uncut” hit, the response to Team America: World Police will be a hearty “Fuck, yeah!”

Steve Burgess reviews the screen, small and large, for The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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