Team America: World Police (Uncensored and Unrated) Review

As the film has already been admirably dealt with on DVD Times by Tiffany Bradford and Matt Day, I will assume that readers have already read their pieces and are reasonably familiar with the film.

Team America: World Police, whatever its faults, has to be judged an unqualified success on the most basic level – it is very funny. Uproariously, gut-bustingly funny in fact, one of the most consistently effective comedies that I’ve seen in a long time. As in “South Park”, their most famous work together, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have found a very particular kind of comedy which melds uncannily acute satire with incredibly childish smut. The result is disarming, appealing to both the brain and the funny bone in equal measure. It’s been said of the film, by people like Roger Ebert who should no better, that it goes too far and ends up being more offensive than funny. I would argue that Parker and Stone have to go too far, they have to keep pushing the boundaries in order to do something which is as edgy and exciting as the best of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s “Derek And Clive” tapes. When they don’t go too far, they seem bland and toothless. At their best, they can produce the kind of wickedly accurate satire that is just about guaranteed to upset anyone without a sense of humour.

The satire has so many targets that it’s in danger of exploding in all directions. Indeed, some of the time it becomes so all-pervading that it seems weirdly unfocused and in danger of appearing less anarchistic than nihilistic. Parker and Stone could be accused of cynicism beyond the call of duty, manifested through something which comes close to being despairingly misanthropic. At times, they seem to hate everybody and everything – frequent targets include Americans, non-Americans, Communists, Muslims, Liberals, Republicans, patriots, pro-war, pacifist, gays, straights, Hollywood, the independents. There’s not much of a positive message coming through in this film and there’s certainly no sentimental reassurance. They seem to tar us all with the same brush - because they seem to believe in nothing, they assume that the same is true of the rest of us. This is funny at first but it eventually becomes a little disquieting because it’s laid on thick towards the end. On the other hand, such qualms are essentially a liberal humanist response to a film which doesn’t allow for such tender feelings. It’s savage and unyielding and even the most sensitive viewer surely has to accept that a lot of it is both funny and horribly truthful.

The political satire is double-edged. On the one hand, Parker and Stone attack the post-9/11 mentality of extreme patriotism and pathological paranoia. The members of Team America storm through the world like the proverbial bull in a china shop, destroying foreign cultures and vast numbers of civilians with a nonchalance born of absolute conviction and a blind faith in their own righteousness. This is funny in itself, especially when the destruction includes national landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids. The targeting of the mealy-mouthed justifications for war is particularly effective – there’s a computer called I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. which is often misleading – and the phrase ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ is ribbed so mercilessly that it must surely now be completely meaningless. On the other hand, the anti-war wing is also a target, represented by those actors who spend their time going on endlessly about world peace and the sins of their country. This is equally funny – Alec Baldwin and Matt Damon are subjected to particular ridicule – but not quite as effective, simply because it’s always been hard to take the likes of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon seriously and they tend to have been their own worst enemies. What Parker and Stone do, however, is hone in on the universal truth about actors who choose to become spokesmen for ‘causes’ – that they have fallen prey to the arrogant delusion that the public loves them for themselves and not for the films they have made. I don’t, incidentally, mean actors such as Audrey Hepburn and Roger Moore who really have made a significant contribution through their work for UNICEF. I mean all the actors, stretching in a long line from Vanessa Redgrave who have used the Oscars as a platform for tired generalisations and simplistic platitudes.

Parker and Stone seem to hate actors – which is one of the reasons they made a film using puppets. The pretensions of the acting profession are thoroughly spoofed. This feeds in to the other satirical target of the film, namely mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. The primary focus is on Jerry Bruckheimer’s pumped-up, sentimental action extravaganzas with particular reference to Armageddon - the line “Basically, the worst parts of the bible” is a direct quotation. The elements which make Bruckheimer’s productions so laughable are all present and correct; ludicrously over-scaled scenes of death and destruction; endless simplifications; the belief that the entire world revolves around America; the mind-numbing tendency for characters to unburden themselves of their deepest feelings at the moment of greatest peril. It’s the recognition that, barring the use of puppets, Team America could be played straight as a Bruckheimer production that gives it much of its piquancy. There are some other shafts at the producer that delight, none more so than a song entitled “The End of an Act” which includes the lyrics, “Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies” and “Pearl Harbour sucked, and I miss you”. It’s only fair to point out that other films and filmmakers get similar treatment – Quentin Tarantino comes in for a bit of stick and some of the film looks remarkably like a rip on True Lies.

In fact, the songs are a constant delight. In South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, Trey Parker wrote some superb parodies of songs from Disney movies and various stage shows and he continues in that tradition here. The theme song, “America, Fuck Yeah!” is a paean to American supremacy which concludes with a cheer such institutions as baseball and slavery. There’s a devastating parody of Broadway social conscience nonsense in the deeply emotional “Everyone has AIDS”. “Freedom Isn’t Free” rips the piss out of Garth Brooks while “Only A Woman” is a textbook AOR love song that almost plays entirely straight. The villain of the piece, Kim Il Jong is given a heartrending confessional song, “I’m Ronery” and there’s a masterly send-up of 1980s power rock in the self-referential “Montage”. Parker’s major skill is his ability to produce parody songs which are often better than the ones they are spoofing.

The unrated version of the film – unseen in the UK – takes a work which is already hovering on the edge of acceptability and pushes it over in a scene which will either delight or repel depending on one’s sense of humour. The central love scene between two characters will bring joy to the heart of any boy who ever paired his Action Man up with his sister’s Sindy doll (not me, obviously), but the unrated version goes a step further. Let’s just say that if you think water-sports means canoeing then you might want to think carefully before watching this. The other difference is slightly more graphic violence in a key scene involving a hapless celebrity. The film remains, in either version, as remarkable a technical achievement as anything I’ve seen in recent months – although I’m not entirely sure where anyone could go from here in this particular style.

My only real reservation is a nagging sense that Parker and Stone too often take the easy route and pander to the lowest common denominator. I’m particularly baffled by their recourse to homophobia as a source of cheap laughs – they’re a bit like the old vaudeville audiences who thought that the idea of homosexuality was hilarious in itself. If they went anywhere with the gay jokes - as they seem to be doing with the red-ribbon marathon at the beginning – then it would be forgivable but they don’t. Nor am I entirely convinced that the liberal wing of Hollywood deserves quite as much flak as it gets here. But the gags fly thick and fast and when there’s one which doesn’t work, it’s a good opportunity to have a quick respite from laughing. By the end, we’re thoroughly implicated in the film’s cynical, negative world view and there’s something oddly healthy about such extreme tastelessness. I can’t imagine I will ever be able to watch a Hollywood blockbuster in quite the same way ever again and it’s a tribute to Parker and Stone that I don’t think I want to.

The Disc

Paramount’s Uncensored and Unrated edition of the film is a fine package which will undoubtedly please both those already familiar with it and those who are yet to taste its particular delights.

The film looks absolutely stunning in its DVD incarnation. No problems with print damage or excessive grain, no unsightly artifacting and no over-enhancement or aliasing. A model transfer in every respect.

There are three soundtracks to choose from; an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and two Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks, one in English and one in French. The 5.1 track is the one to choose, offering an impressive workout to the surround channels and plenty of explosions to keep the .1 LFE happy. The music spreads out nicely across the channels and dialogue is usually directional.

The extra features are a good example of quantity winning out over quality and seem to duplicate the ones on the R-Rated disc and the UK Region 2 disc. There's plenty here of interest but each of the seven featurettes is fairly brief and simplistic. It's interesting to see how the film was made and you're left with the definite impression of how complicated an endeavour it must have been. But I found the results a little unsatisfying and there's not enough of Parker and Stone - a commentary would have been a jewel in this DVD's crown.

The Dressing Room Test and the Puppet Test are quite amusing and the generous selection of deleted scenes and outtakes throws up some wonderful moments. We also get some animated storyboards which should be funnier than they are and two trailers. There's also the option to watch previews of Coach Carter, The Longest Yard, Jay-Z At Madison Square Garden and South Park Season Five. However, as these appear every time you put the disc in, I doubt anyone will be too bothered.

The film is subtitled and, refreshingly, so are the extra features.

Team America: World Police is energetic, original and a pleasure to watch, even if the cumulative effect is occasionally a little exhausting. If you're a fan of the film then this unrated edition is worth a look if only to see how much further Parker and Stone are capable of going.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:05:55

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