Madcap 'Team America' pulls the right strings

With all the political puppeteering going on during this election year, it seems only fitting that the most savage cinematic satire of American culture is delivered via puppets.

Taking a page from the beloved "Thunderbirds" series of the 1960s, "Team America: World Police" uses ornate marionettes and elaborate miniature sets to tell a jingoistic action tale straight out of the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer playbook.

Despite and/or because of this kooky approach, "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have concocted the funniest film of the year.

And, wow, is it ever offensive.

The film was submitted 10 times to the MPAA before arriving at a cut that wasn't slapped with an NC-17 rating -- mainly due to a less-than-wooden sex scene. Viewing it now, it's difficult to fathom how that hilarious bit could've been any MORE graphic.

But don't make the mistake that "Team America" is all gross-out, naughty trash. The movie's real impact comes from its social and political barbs. No one will accuse the filmmakers of playing sides, either. They target both the destructive warmongering of the far right and the pompous, feckless antics of the Hollywood left in equal doses.

No wonder Sean Penn has made headlines for criticizing Parker and Stone's film; the Oscar winner comes across as a malignant moron. As do other liberal members of the fictional Film Actors Guild (or FAG) such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Alec Baldwin and especially Matt Damon, who's portrayed as verbally one-dimensional as the mentally handicapped Timmy on "South Park."


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The puppet version of North Korea's Kim Jong Il ponders how to enslave the Earth in "Team America: World Police."

The movie begins in France, with the anti-terrorist force Team America confronting a band of swarthy Middle Easterners that possess a portable WMD. With vehicles sporting the elite unit's logo of an eagle crushing the Earth in its mouth, the group quickly dispatches the villains -- while negligently leaving most of Paris ruined in process. Oh well.

After tragedy strikes the team, the members are compelled to recruit Gary, a "maverick renegade" actor who is currently starring in "Lease -- the Musical." Gary is told that without his help the U.S. could face a situation that is like "9-11 times 1,000."

Or as one of the crew clarifies, "It will be 911,000 times worse."


Team America: World Police *** 1/2


The "War on Terror" gets mocked by marionettes in the hilarious film by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The movie benefits from the fact that it targets both sides of the political fence, from right-wing warmongers to pompous Hollywood liberals. Plus, there's a touch of genius to the indelible musical numbers.

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But it's not Osama Bin Laden behind this unified terrorist effort. It's actually North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose nefarious plans also involve the Hollywood glitterati.

Yes, it's amusing seeing the sacrosanct "War on Terror" mocked by mannequins. Sure, the film's rampant profanity is staggering in its creativity. However, like the movie "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," the filmmakers reveal their true genius lies in their musical abilities.

Songs such as the Lee Greenwood country spoof "Freedom Isn't Free" and the Broadway jab "Everyone Has AIDS" are Oscar worthy in their conception. Although it will be hard for the Academy to find a "Blame Canada"-type song to nominate, being that each composition is so lyrically abrasive.

Kim Jong Il even gets his own solo musical number, "I'm So Ronery," about the heartbreaking melancholy that a feared despot must deal with. ("I work very hard and make up great prans/But nobody ristens, no one understands.")


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An elite anti-terrorist unit prepares to infiltrate the enemy in the puppet parody, "Team America: World Police."

The film also sports the most entertaining montage ever, thanks in part to the song that is playing during the sequence. It's called "Montage," and it deconstructs the type of "Rocky trains hard" moments that are the hallmarks of most blockbuster action flicks.

The movie only occasionally misses its target. A running gag involving documentary gadfly Michael Moore bombs miserably. As does a rotating camera parody of the iconic "Matrix" fight move -- it's time to officially remove that image from the public domain. And seeing effigies of celebrities meet their bloody demise isn't that different from watching the old MTV show "Celebrity Deathmatch."

Otherwise, "Team America" does exactly what it sets out to do: It ferociously lampoons EVERYTHING ... but with puppets.


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