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"TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE"
(2004) (voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A Broadway actor joins an American commando unit in an attempt to stop terrorist activities around the world.
PLOT:
The terrorists of the world are up to no good once again, this time in Paris. Accordingly, Team America -- led by commander Spottswoode (voice of DARAN NORRIS) back in their secret Mount Rushmore headquarters -- arrives to take care of business.

There's Chris (voice of MATT STONE) the martial arts expert; Sarah (voice of MASASA) the empath; Lisa (voice of KRISTEN MILLER) the psychologist; Joe (voice of TREY PARKER) the former quarterback; and Carson who proposes to Lisa but is shot and killed by a presumably dead terrorist.

Realizing they need a replacement member who could successfully infiltrate the terrorists' ranks, the group offers the position to Broadway actor Gary Johnston (voice of TREY PARKER). He doesn't initially want the job, but after a trip to D.C. overwhelms him with patriotism, he agrees and sets out for the Middle East. Little does he or any of his comrades realize, however, that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (voice of TREY PARKER) is the mastermind behind the terrorist activities and is plotting to use a bunch of liberal Hollywood actors such as Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and others to do his dirty work.

With time counting down toward the unleashing of the dictator's terrorist plan, Gary and the others do what they can to stop it and him, all while dealing with various setbacks and obstacles that confront them.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Considering that most of the people of the world, as well as many businesses, are followers and not leaders, you have to admire those who buck common trends and instead follow the beat of their own drummer. Love 'em, hate 'em or even if you don't know who "'em" is, there's no denying that applies to Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

They're the guys who eschewed traditional animation in favor of using paper cutouts to make their "South Park" TV and big screen movie. Continuing in that vein, they've forgone high tech computer effects and instead used 20-some inch tall marionettes and other related miniatures to make "Team America: World Police."

Yes, you read that right, they're using pre-Muppet technology that was probably last utilized in the British TV series "Thunderbirds" way back in the 1960s. Of course, doing so enables critics to note that this is a small-scale comedy with strings attached where the performers are wooden and the action (and other movements) stilted.

That, however, is part of the charm and fun that runs rampant in this often hilarious but decidedly adult spoof of both American politics and big budget action flicks from the likes of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. No strangers to satire, Parker and Stone (who voice most of the characters along with several other vocal performers) have wisely made this an equal opportunity offender.

Liberals will delight in the titular satire and jokes about "bad intelligence" (where the latter word is an acronym for a computer), while conservatives will likely enjoy seeing Hollywood liberals such as Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin and especially Michael Moore being skewered and then some.

The humor is decidedly sophomoric, often crude and it does get repetitious at times. Yet, at others, it's smart and witty. Besides, whenever any film makes me laugh as hard as I did in this one, that automatically earns some points regardless of any other misgivings I might have about it.

The funny stuff comes from a variety of sources, including the filmmakers' signature musical numbers. I never imagined a love song could exist that featured a direct attack on the movie "Pearl Harbor" or that a ballad would involve Kim Jong Il (the leader of North Korea), but the guys pull them and others off with aplomb.

Some of the laughs also come from the inherent physical limitations of the marionettes themselves. Beyond the always visible strings, they have a funky way of "walking" (which is a half skip, half glide, partial defiance of gravity) and in one particularly funny moment, one of the characters is even aware of her limitations.

As she tries to point to another's heart while making a point, the strings and her overall stiffness prevent her from quite getting there. We see her recognize this and, as a certain credit card compay likes to advertise, the result is priceless.

Despite such limitations, the production values are quite good, with cinematographer Bill Pope ("Spider-Man 2," the "Matrix" films) giving the film a lush veneer despite the obvious miniatures and general crudity of the puppetry.

Speaking of which, the film has what's now become a somewhat notorious sex scene that originally earned an NC-17 rating before various cuts were made. The fact that it's not even remotely erotic and features non-realistic and hinged wooden puppets sans any genitalia makes the whole furor even more absurd (especially since it's so over the top and the fact that many kids have made similar, anatomically challenged dolls do the same, albeit probably without the details and variety).

Like most such spoofs, the plot is mostly a throwaway element upon which all of the jokes, gags and satire are hung. Mixing bits from the Thunderbirds, those Bruckheimer type action flicks, James Bond, "Star Wars" and more, the story is ambitious and all over the board but things do get a bit slow and flat from time to time.

Even so, the hit to miss ratio is high and there is plenty of funny stuff -- from the slight chuckle to full-out belly laughs -- to be had for those who don't mind their adult humor decidedly crude and lewd but also smart and often clever. Akin to watching an impromptu puppet show put on by mischievous but imaginative teens using their younger siblings' dolls and generating plenty of sophomoric, risqué and surprisingly numerous laughs, "Team America: World Police" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 9, 2004 / Posted October 15, 2004


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