Directed by Trey Parker
In case you haven’t noticed, the ’80s are back.
Our clothes are tighter, pop music bears more of a Michael Jackson influence, and I personally no longer get that smug ironic feeling when I sit down to watch Top Gun with my buddies. A final clear—and bed-wettingly hilarious—sign of this return to our roots is the new Trey Parker and Matt Stone production Team America: World Police.
This delirious send-up of the international save-the-world action genre spoofs every movie from the Star Wars trilogy to Knightrider to The Matrix and unsympathetically mocks every public figure from Michael Moore to Kim Jong-Il to, curiously enough, Matt Damon. And they do it with puppets.
The main puppet—I mean character—is Gary Johnston, a promising young actor and star of a hip Broadway show named Lease. After one show, he’s recruited by Spottswoode, a Hugh Hefner look-alike puppet that runs Team America: an elite group of commandos that, in the name of freedom and saving the day, invariably destroy everything around them whenever they leap into action. A double-major in acting and world languages, Gary is exactly the man Team America needs for their newest undercover operation: infiltrate the terrorists’ hideout in order to determine their heinous plans.
The plot progresses ridiculously onward from there, making politically incorrect jokes at the expense of just about everyone, allowing this movie to work both as a mindlessly funny comedy and a clever satire of our current state of affairs. Unlike most politically-motivated comedies these days, there’s no clear slant towards either the left or the right. Team America pokes viciously at the liberals for being too contemplatively passive and relentlessly ridicules conservatives for being crazed, bloodthirsty gunslingers.
However, the real wit of this film is not in what it says, but in what it allows to go unsaid. While Alec Baldwin, Peter Jennings, and Susan Sarandon see more than their fair share of unadulterated and unflinching mockery, the one figure that is curiously and notably absent is the man himself: George W. Bush. At first glance, one might say that the South Park boys decided to leave Dubya out of this in order to make their work as non-partisan as possible and separate it from what is rapidly becoming a faceless mass of Bush-bashing films. Although this may indeed be the case, the simple fact is that you don’t need an overt representation of Bush in this movie; Team America—with their shoot from the hip, ask questions never tactics—are the Bush administration. If their actions don’t make this connection clear enough, than the film’s subtitle, World Police, should eliminate all doubt.
The ’80s were a time when everyone from the President to pop culture did their best to lay things out in black and white; it was the Cold War and the Russians were the bad guys. After a decade of ’90s action films that seemed to stick to a lone-warrior-versus-the-corrupt-establishment theme, Team America: World Police is a throwback to the kind of movie that casts the establishment as the good guy and everyone who goes against them are either evil or woefully misinformed. While, to many, such a theme may seem ironic, what makes this movie so pertinent and vital is the fact that this unthinking good-vs.-evil mentality may be more widespread than we’d like to believe. What this movie says to me is that it may not just be the music, movie and fashion industries that are nostalgic for the glory of the ’80s, but our President may be as well.
On the other hand, this movie also tells me that beating the hell out of puppets is funny. Although Parker and Stone manage to do some impressive stuff with these marionettes, in the end, they are just little toy people hanging from very visible strings and this ridiculous mise-en-scene is the source of a lot of this movie’s laughs.
Team America: World Police is a riotously comic and self-aware movie that mixes political commentary with jokes about the least-attractive of our bodily functions; it will satisfy everyone from those who rarely think to those who think far, far too much. I mean, seriously, it’s about puppets. But, as Parker and Stone liberally show, puppets can—and will—bleed just like you and me.