Team America: World Police Review

When rogue terrorist-fighting squad Team America learns North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il may be brokering weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, they make it their mission to locate and destroy the evil despot. From the makers of South Park, comes one of the filthiest, funniest and most offensive films ever acted by marionettes and there’s even some graphic puppet sex to boot. Tiffany Bradford reviews the US theatrical release of Team America: World Police.

Team America is a rogue military squad whose mission in life is to rid the world of terrorists and stop the deployment of weapons of mass destruction. Headquartered in Mount Rushmore where jets fly in and out of presidential faces, they are led by the older, wiser and certifiably insane Spottswoode. When a new terrorist threat emerges in the form of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il who is rumoured to be brokering the aforementioned weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, Spottswoode recruits Broadway actor Gary Johnston to infiltrate the despot’s evil network. Gary, who is starring in the musical Lease, is reluctant at first to give up his promising career, but after a soul-searching musical number decides his acting talents are needed in the fight against global terrorism and joins the team. Things get complicated when they discover the North Korean dictator has joined forces with the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.) led by Alec Baldwin, and that an attack is being planned which is “9/11 times 1,000” (we’re told that’s 911,000).

As the team sets its sights on Kim Jong Il, they travel the globe accidentally destroying some of the world’s most beloved landmarks (and most of Paris) when their weapons miss their targets. Every time they enter a different part of the world, we’re shown a caption identifying the country and a readout that shows how far it is to America. (When they enter Panama, the readout identifies it as the Panama Canal, Central America and shows exactly how many miles it is to Real America). Along with the newly-recruited Gary, Team America consists of saucy blonde Lisa whose fiancé and fellow team member Carson was killed by a terrorist moments after he proposed to her; Chris, a martial arts expert and the most foul-mouthed of the bunch; Sarah, a psychic who has a thing for Gary who has a thing for Lisa; Joe, the all-American quarterback in love with Sarah and Spottswoode, the elder leader of the team.

Team America: World Police started life as an homage (of sorts) to Jerry Bruckheimer action blockbusters with over-the-top action, big explosions, corny dialogue and tender moments that just happen to feature marionette stars (inspired by Gerry Anderson’s 60’s cult favourite Thunderbirds), but along the way Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creative geniuses behind South Park) having become increasingly annoyed with celebrity mouthpieces spouting endless political rhetoric decided to add them and some timely world events into the mix. The liberal puppet stars are just as much the enemy to Team America as the terrorists and are dispatched in delightfully graphic ways. The film was initially slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating when the MPAA objected to scenes of graphic puppet sex, but after submitting nine scaled-down versions of the offending scenes, they were finally given an R.

In the grand tradition of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, nothing is taboo and no one is spared from the skewering. Parker and Stone are equal opportunity offenders and actors, Arabs, gays, blacks, cripples, Americans, Europeans, both ends of the political spectrum and everyone in between are fair game, but it’s the celebrity mouthpieces who receive the brunt of the lampooning and some of the more violent deaths – Susan Sarandon is thrown off a high-rise building and her partner Tim Robbins is set on fire; a hotdog-eating Michael Moore sporting a permanent mustard stain on his shirt makes a short-lived appearance as a suicide bomber and then there’s the case of poor Janeane Garofalo. Even former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix meets a nasty end in a shark tank. The filmmakers seem to harbour a special hatred for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (whose puppet is incapable of saying anything but his own name) and they’ve never forgiven the collaborating team of Bay-Bruckheimer for Pearl Harbor which is illustrated by a particularly vicious, albeit hilarious song titled Pearl Harbor Sucked. They even make fun of their slow moving, limited-motion stars when team members engage in hand-to-hand combat with their enemies and all they are able to do is bump into each other. The puppet actors display a wide range of emotions and each of the principals is given a back story – a melancholy Kim Jong Il (who sounds a lot like the City Wok guy from South Park) sings a sad ballad called I’m So Ronery and we learn one of the Team America members was raped by Mr. Mistoffolees from the Broadway musical Cats.

I’m a huge fan of both the South Park television series and the film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but I had no idea what was coming. Team America: World Police is one of the filthiest, most politically-incorrect, offensive and funniest films I’ve seen in a long time. The graphic puppet sex alone is worth the price of a ticket and considering what they do show, I can only imagine what was cut. The art design is amazing. New York architect David Rockwell designed the puppet-sized sets with exquisite attention to detail and Bill Pope’s (The Matrix) brilliant cinematography lends the film a lot of class. In addition to an endless stream of profanity and violence, the film is loaded with really excellent sight gags with assorted nods to Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Star Wars, The Matrix and several Bay-Bruckheimer blockbusters. There’s a vomiting scene that puts Regan MacNeil’s effort in The Exorcist to shame and the climatic speech Gary delivers dividing the world into Dicks, Pussies and Assholes is jaw-droppingly profane and funny. Although not as much a musical as the South Park film, Team America does contain some hilarious and clever songs and with titles like America, Fuck Yeah! and Everyone has AIDS, you know they’re bound to offend someone. With the American Presidential election just around the corner the film will no doubt benefit from the pre-election interest, but the film itself doesn’t take sides. It’s too busy slagging off everyone else on the planet.

Tiffany Bradford

Updated: Jan 16, 2005

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