Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Team America

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.


Steve Miller said...

That's an excellent review of a great movie.

Jasper L'Estrange said...

Absolutely spot on. This remains one of my favourite movies. I never laughed so hard in the cinema than that scene where Gary's vomiting in the alley and "Freedom Isn't Free" and "Montage" have me in hysterics. Like the best South Park episodes, the satire in "Team America" is actually surprisingly conservative in so far as you the language and the crude humour makes it seem subversive, but actually the moral of the piece is always somewhere in the middle of two extremes: the common sense way that people would opt for if only they could quit bawling at one another. At the time the Michael Moore spoofing felt cruel and uncomfortable to me (he's a bit of a hero) but it makes sense in the context of the movie. Great review. Keep up the good work.

Thomas said...

Such a brilliant movie. I cannot believe that it didn't get more recognition since it was so great about offending everyone equally. I may have to Netflix it to see how it holds up.

Tom Clift said...

Fantastic review. I love this film - it's one of the smartest "dumb" movies I have ever seen. On top of all it's political satire, I love how it parodies action movies - especially in the opening scene, as well as the "Pearl Harbour Sucks" song

le0pard13 said...

I'm with you and Duckers on this (I actually think I pulled a rib out of place during Gary's vomiting in the alley scene) and the kinky puppet sex sequence would be my cinematic definition of jaw-dropping. Excellent review.

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Bryce Wilson said...

@ Steve: Thank you sir.

@ Duckers: Yeah Parker and Stone's ideology is very libertarian (though they at least have the sense to curb it now again). I wasn't kidding when I referred to the Dicks, Pussies, and Asshole speech as the most coherent defense of The Bush Doctrine I've ever heard. I mean I still don't agree but at least it's something.

I agree the Moore joke was troublesome. Most because the other celebrity jokes worked because they hit on the fact that celebrities would most likely not give a fuck about politics if they weren't celebrities (would George Clooney general manager of Costco be an activist?) Say what you will about Moore but he is passionately involved.

@ Dan: It'd be worth it.

@ Tom: "All I can think of is your face/And that shitty movie too..."

@ Le0: Both of them just go OOOOONN.

@ MH: Sure thing.

Unknown said...

Excellent review on a film that doesn't get talked about much anymore but in my mind is one of the great cinematic satires. I love how Parker and Stone zero in on specific targets mercilously and just go for it not worrying about things like good taste or decorum. This such an odd movie that it's a marvel it exists at all. I sure hope that Parker and Stone end up realizing their rubber suited Godzilla-type film that I heard they were mulling at one point.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ JD: Man I would kill for that movie.

Darren Maher said...

Great film. Great Review.