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Monday, October 18, 2004
Well, this was e-nev-itab-re. Inevitable? E-nev-itab-re!
You're not going to like this. You should just stop reading right now. Really. Turn around, go do something else. Take a walk. Drink a beer. Really.
OK, you've been warned. I've been following the production on this movie for four months and now, finally, a review.
Team America is fantasy snuff film for conservatives. It's right-wing propoganda that makes anything credited to Michael Moore seem like a textbook in comparision. To spite myself, I laughed at this movie. Hard. To the point of hurting my jaw, which still aches two days later.
There's so much to praise here: the Parisian set design, the cheesy special effects and overall brilliant concept. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are masters at smart crude humor and their skills are in full effect here. It's a shame they felt the need to drag national politics into it.
Team America is at its best when its focused on lambasting director Michael Bay and the conventions of the action genre- the best set pieces in the film make fun of montages ("We're Gonna Need a Montage! Even Rocky had a montage!"), archetypes and stilted dialog. There's more than enough fodder in Bay's catalog of big-budget messes to fill 90 minutes. But, perhaps foolishly, the duo also set their sites on the War on Terror.
With so much to potentially lampoon why did Parker/Stone cowardly go after celebrities? Where's the GW Bush puppet? Or a Hilary Clinton puppet? Worse yet, the film implies that the activism of Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn is not only detrimental to US efforts overseas but paramount to terrorism.
What is the message of this movie? If you're not with us, you're against us and you deserve torn apart by panthers. Team America doesn't leave much room for subtly. Liberal fans of South Park and Parker/Stone could offer a spin on this, claiming that the film is poking fun at the overreaction of conservative pundits to celebrity political commentary. With the final 20 minutes devoted to long, cruel shots of celebs like Janeanne Garofalo being shot in the face and Samuel L. Jackson having his half his head torn off, this isn't a legitimate interpretation. In its last act, Team America becomes an all-puppet snuff film. No amount of gags about the team's "FUCK YEAH!" theme song and trigger-happy destruction of Paris can drag the bulk back to the middle. Make no mistake, this movie swings hard to the right.
South Park has done the same thing in over-the-top episodes featuring the likes of Christopher Reeve sucking on stem cells but at least it occasionally goes after the other side. The playing field is widely skewed in Team America. If the film wanted to play fair, conservative celebs like James Woods and Toby Keith would have also received a brutal comeuppance.
The stars featured in the film all came out against the Iraqi war, not the War on Terror and their activism is ridiculed without the slightest bit of context. If you were to track down George Clooney and ask what he thinks of Kim Jong Il, the film's antagonist, he would probably say "Well, at least he has weapons of mass destruction." Would Sean Penn really oppose a war against a war in Korea, let alone support Jung's nuclear program? Doubtful. Did any of these stars speak out against the US military efforts in Afghanistan? Not to my knowledge. Go ahead and correct me if I'm wrong. If I'm right, their puppet counterparts are being tried and hung for crimes they didn't commit.
The film's worst moment involves Michael Moore. The faux-documentarian is ripe for parody! Mock his films and the alleged lies contained within them! Mock him for using cheap tricks to attack Republicans! Mock him for being a self-serving windbag or for being a ruthless, uncompromising hypocrite! But don't mock him for something he isn't. Michael Moore may be many things but he isn't a terrorist and he certainly isn't a suicide bomber.
If you're going to roast someone like Moore you can't make him so ridiculously over-the-top that he resembles himself in name only. There has to be a least a toe grounded in reality and Team America presents a country more fantastical than anything in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why does the scene involving Hans Blix works? Because it actually parodies the UN inspector instead of some wildly off-the-mark, bizzaro world version. Why does Team America's lampooning of action movies work? Because it actually attacks the conventions of action movies.
Does Helen Hunt deserve to ripped to shreds on screen because, in one or two interviews, she spoke out against a controversial war that has sharply divided the whole country? No (but Mad About You is another subject entirely). For me, celebrity activism is annoying but it doesn't deserves this amount of vicious, uncompromising ridicule.
The film's attempt at a saving grace is a crude analogy, which comes across as an apology for the blood-soaked finale. According to the stars of Team America, there are only three people in this world: "dicks, pussies and assholes." If "pussy" celebrities are misguided but well intentioned, why devote the final moments of the film to brutally killing them on screen, especially when you let a dictator like Kim off easy?
Team America's last act is widely confused, way too malicious and drags an otherwise great comedy into a political gutter. It's a film with a foundation laid in a action film romp that, half-way through, tries to comment on real world politics with all the wit of a 3rd grader scribbling "My teacher sux! She should die!" in crayon after being glared at for not paying attention in social studies. At the very least, Parker/Stone should have been unapologetic.
That said, I still laughed my ass off at Sean Penn being torn apart by housecats. Why? Because watching a puppet being torn apart by adorable felines is funny. It's only when you begin to pick apart Team America does the nasty, misguided intentions behind its mindless mayhem become apparent. As Cartmen might say, "it's kickass," provided you don't think too much about what you're watching.
For the cats and the bulk of the film, which isn't political, Team America deserves an 8.2 out of 10.