|Team America: World Police (Unrated Edition)|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 17 May 2005|
Last year, the semi-animated British action TV show “Thunderbirds” was made into a big-budget Hollywood movie that featured live actors. However, the original “Thunderbirds” TV show features marionettes with visible strings, as well as fighter planes and missiles that too are obviously scale models suspended from wires. The effect is a surreal kind of Gumby meets Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer experience.
Being the students and fans of pop culture of all kinds that they are, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always enjoyed drawing from other creative ideas and put their own spin on them. With “Team America: World Police,” they not only do they “Thunderbirds” one better by making a full-length action movie about a group of do-gooder marionettes, but they manage to make fun of just about every big-budget action, war and disaster movie from the past 20 years. “Top Gun,” “Armageddon,” “The Matrix,” “Mission: Impossible 2” and “Pearl Harbor” are just some of the big Hollywood movies that come to mind.
The plot of “Team America: World Police” is very simple. Terrorism is a worldwide threat and weapons of mass destruction are on the loose. A band of freedom fighters called “Team America: World Police” have secret headquarters inside Mt. Rushmore. They need someone who can act so well that he can pass himself off as a terrorist and go deep into the terrorist underworld and find out where the weapons of mass destruction are. The leader of Team America, a stone-faced, white-haired gentleman named Spottswoode, tracks down Gary Johnson, the lead actor in the AIDS-themed musical “Lease” (for those of you who aren’t laughing yet, this is a spoof of the Broadway show “Rent”). Spottswoode is so wowed by Gary’s acting and his rendition of the final tune “Everyone’s Got AIDS” that he talks him into joining the team and taking on the mission of infiltrating the terrorist’s hideouts.
Weather you are for the war in Iraq or against it; you are going to find something to agree with or be offended by in this film. The members of Team America will make those in the red states stand up and cheer as they chase terrorists through the streets of Paris, blasting away at anything in sight to catch them and get back the weapons of mass destruction. The song “Freedom Isn’t Free” is a send-up of those overly sappy post 9/11 country songs and “America: F*&K Yeah” is a patriotic tribute to kicking ass, taking names and asking questions later.
Blue state liberals will side with the celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins and Matt Damon, who all oppose the heavy-handed tactics of Team America. This group of Hollywood A-list talent has dubbed themselves the Film Actors Guild, or F.A.G. If that made you laugh reading it, then this is your kind of movie. Like almost every celebrity cameo in a Trey Parker and Matt Stone production, the celebrity voices are simulated, and very poorly at that. The best celebrity voice just so happened to be that of Mr. Damon. As Baldwin waxes poetic about how the United States should not have to be the world’s police, the camera pans to a dumb-faced Damon, who seemingly can only say his own name in a brain-damaged affect.
The love scenes that take place in the middle of action movies like “Top Gun” and “Armageddon” are usually clichéd and tame, using strategically placed hands and bedsheets to ensure that they aren’t too graphic, yet firmly establish that our male hero and his love interest have taken their relationship to the next level. In “Team America,” new member Gary and team veteran Lisa really take things to levels you won’t believe until you see it. Lisa, who has recently lost the love of her life, who was killed in action with the team, falls in love quickly with Gary and the two find themselves at home in bed. What begins as some casual naked Ken and Barbie with no clothes on puppet love turns into one of the funniest and most bizarre set of sexual positions shown on film. It had me laughing so hard I almost had to stop the DVD and wait to recover.
Speaking of montages, “Team America” features a host of songs that move the plot along, one of the funniest being the tune “Montage.” Also used in the skiing episode of “South Park,” the gist of the song is that whenever someone needs to get good at something really quickly in a movie, without fail it seems as if the director inserts a montage. In the movie “Rocky,” for example, Rocky’s training progresses at light speed in the middle of the movie as some inspirational music plays while a rapid-fire series of shots shows Rocky training in the gym, running the streets of Philly and punching raw meat, intercut with shots of Adrian and Rocky’s enemy Apollo Creed, then back to Rocky working out. By the end of the three-minute song, Rocky has suddenly gone from a wannabe champ to a seasoned pro. As the song “Montage” says as Gary is completing his training, “You always need to fade out in a montage… so it makes it seem like even more time has passed…”
The payoff on this disc for me was not the movie. Sure it was goofy, funny and action-packed, but what really made me stand back and say “Wow” was the documentary about the making of the film that is included on the disc. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of excessive amounts of computer-generated imagery in movies. Almost everything that you see on the screen in “Team America: World Police” is done on a set with puppets. The marionettes are one-third scale, and the level of detail that went into making them was astronomical. I thought while watching the movie that perhaps the movement of the faces, including the mouths and the blinking, was done with computers, but I wasn’t sure because it seemed to look too good. It turns out that a series of remote-controlled servos were built into the heads of the puppets and then they were synched up with the dialogue.
The sets were built using forced perspective, making it look as if they go on for thousands of miles, but they are actually contained with in a small soundstage. The detail of Paris in the opening shot is breathtaking, the downtown New York scene looks like a bustling miniaturized version of the Big Apple, yet all of the major landmarks are visible in one sweep of the camera. Details of on the horizon on the sets of Egypt were accomplished with out of focus rough paintings of sand dunes and pyramids, but when filmed, look absolutely spectacular. It blurs the lines between reality and animation, yet stays intentionally corny with the easily visible wires.
”Team America: World Police,” like all of the other non-“South Park” ventures from this comedic duo, is hit and miss with the comedy. It drags on a little long but has some pretty darn funny parts. Watching the bonus footage will be a huge eye opener into the amount of work that went into this little puppet show. I might recommend watching the making-of first, so that it will open your eyes to how amazing the visuals on this movie really are. Even when the clichéd plot drags you down, you can turn your attention to other aspects of this ambitious project.