Though it seemed an audacious prank upon its first release the fact that Team America exists grows stranger every year. This is after all a movie made with marionettes that contains some of the most aggressively Andy Kaufmanesque anti humor ever released in mainstream theaters. A feat that is actually less impressive then the way the film simultaneously contains some of the most ruthlessly pointed satire of American culture and a more cognizant defense of the Bush doctrine then the woeful administration ever bothered to produce. This among the jokes about puppet vomit, sex and jaw droppingly graphic violence.
Like I said this is a mighty strange movie.
The secret to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s success as satirists is their skills as mimics, which as far as I’m concerned is surpassed only by Edgar Wright (I mean seriously can anyone take Rent seriously after being exposed to “Everyone Has AIDS”?) Just as South Park The Movie succeeded as a satire of musical bombast by actually being a better musical then anything Hollywood or Broadway had bothered to produce in years, Team America as an action movie has a creativity and sense of geography that puts 90% of Hollywood action spectacle to shame. One of the more unusual byproducts of Team America (and once again that is an extremely relative term in this case) is the fact that it leaves you with the desire to watch a “straight” Parker/Stone action film.
Even setting aside the satire for a moment, the striking thing about Team America is how aggressive some of its humor is. Long tracts of the movies dialogue seem to have been lifted verbatim from some particularly bad, forgotten Canon film. The joke of having every Muslim character speak in meaningless gibberish is one of the sharpest double edged jokes in modern times. And let’s not even get into the mechanics behind “The Panther” joke.
The satire in the film is just as aggressive. The logical endpoint of the “piss off the entire world” aesthetic that has governed the work of Parker and Stone since the beginning (Witness usual defender of Bad Taste Roger Ebert’s no star review, one of the most fascinatingly divided reviews I’ve ever read. You can tell he’s amazed by the movie yet offended to his core by it.) It’s easy to say that a movie is an equal opportunity offender, its very rare to actually see one in the wild. It goes beyond the usual surface targets. It’s expected to see the parody of the Shock and Awe tactics of Team America. Less expected is the vivisection of the jingoist mindset present in Freedom Isn’t Free, which skewers the pandering of right wing propaganda (“Would you think about all them War Vets/ And start to feel bad?”) Similarly while the swipes it takes at easy liberal targets are to be expected and used mostly for shock value, the points it makes about the group think that tends to pop up in liberalism (Kraw Kraw Kraw) and the smug satisfaction that parlor liberals take from simply being on the right side of the argument without actually, you know, doing anything hit a lot harder then viewers like to admit.
This all comes back to what I’d said in my opening paragraph. There’s a strikingly merciless and even dangerous movie tucked behind the puppet fucking and blood geysers in Team America. It’s rare to witness a movie in the multiplexes that has the genuine whiff of anarchy and subversion to it. Not bad for a movie that climaxes with Kim Jong Il being skewered on The Kaiser’s helmet.