Thursday, October 2, 2008


Puppet sex, projectile vomiting, profuse profanity, and piles of B-movie action clichés proliferate in "South Park" creator Trey Parker's new marionette movie "Team America: World Police," a demented but inspired politically incorrect satire about global terrorism that ranks as the most original, cutting-edge, non-human, laugh-riot since the claymation classic "Chicken Run." Anybody who hated "South Park" should be prepared for the worst from this imaginative, superbly-made parody of director Michael Bay's pompous actioneers. The MPAA gave "Team America" (**** out of ****) its richly-deserved R-rating for lots of "graphic, crude, and sexual humor" as well as "violent images and strong language, all involving puppets." Again, this is a puppet movie! For the record, the parental website Kids-In-Mind counted "62 F-words and its derivatives, 12 sexual references, nine scatological terms, 59 anatomical terms, 14 mild obscenities, 14 derogatory terms for homosexuals (some are in an ongoing play on words referring to the Film Actors Guild as F.A.G., one derogatory term for African-Americans, six religious profanities, and 15 religious exclamations (1 in French with no translation)." Although writer/director Trey Parker and "South Park" co-writers Pam Brady and Matt Stone never mention President George W. Bush by name, they ridicule Washington's efforts at thwarting world-wide terrorism, particularly when our heroes demolish more than the terrorists destroy. When they aren't making a mockery of macho Hollywood action movies, Parker, Brady, and Stone lampoon liberal-minded actors who believe they can usher in peace on the basis of their celebrity status. You'll laugh yourself silly at the strikingly life-like puppets of Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen, Sean Penn, and Janeane Garofalo. Last but not least, "Team America" skewers filmmaker Michael Moore of "Fahrenheit 9/11" fame as a suicidal bomber with mustard smeared across his jowls and a hot dog in either hand.

"Team America" chronicles the exploits of an elite "A-Team'' of commandos armed to the teeth with an arsenal of every conceivable modern weapon. These gung-ho hard cases target terrorists, usually of the stereotypical, bewhiskered, Middle-Eastern, towel-headed variety. During their first face-off in Paris, France, our tyke-sized protagonists gun down several terrorists in a slam-bang, blood-splattered, public street shoot-out. Indeed, when bullets strike these expressive but plastic puppets, they bleed like actors in a live-action opus. ("Team America" is the closest that anybody has come to matching "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson's 1989 blood & gore puppet movie "Meet the Feebles.") Not only do our heroes decimate the terrorists, they also destroy the Eiffel Tower, the Arch of Triumph and the Louvre in an hilarious domino effect that sends one structure toppling over to wipe out another and another! Making the world safe from terrorists, however, takes a toll on the team when one of them takes a bullet in the back from a terrorist playing possum in a water fountain. After successfully completing their mission and destroying French landmarks in the process, our heroes return to their home base, cleverly concealed in historic Mount Rushmore. Team America leader, Spottswoode (voice of Trey Parker), decides to adopt a different strategy, so he persuades a "top gun" Broadway actor named Gary Johnston (voice of Parker) to go undercover and learn what the terrorists are planning next. Gary undergoes plastic surgery so he will blend in with the bad guys. Essentially, they put boot polish on his face and attach turfs of hair to his cheeks. Disguised as an Arab, Gary strolls into a cafe in Cairo where he asks the obvious question: "Anybody know of any terrorist attacks coming up soon?" and nearly gets his little plastic buttocks blown off. Again, our reckless heroes rush to Gary's rescue, mow down the trigger-happy bad guys, and accidentally destroy the Sphinx and the Pyramids. Eventually, the biggest and baddest villain of them all marches forward in the pot-bellied shape of a bespectacled Kim Jong II. Clearly, Parker and company have modeled him on the standard James Bond villain. The diabolical North Korean dictator has secretly amassed a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and has hoodwinked Alec Baldwin and a number of other movie celebrities into helping him achieve his dastardly goal.

While most filmmakers resort to the latest technology to make their movies,director Trey Parker steps back in time to revive old-fashioned, hand-manipulated marionettes. Yes, when these bubble-headed marionettes walk, you can see the strings holding them up, and that is part of the charm of "Team America." Parker got the idea when he saw the vintage 1960's British TV series "Thunderbirds" which utilized an all puppet cast. Although Parker relies on ancient technology, he and his crew spent major bucks to recreate in painstaking detail the scaled down, one-third life-like locales. For example, if you peer closely at the Paris sequence, you may notice that the French cobblestones resemble croissants.

Altogether, "Team America" succeeds first as a pungent political satire, second as a spoof of Michael Bay movies like "Pearl Harbor," and third as a truly innovative puppet movie. The puppetry is first-rate, and the production values are dazzling. Again, the attention to detail for an essentially silly movie like this goes far beyond what you'd expect. Lenser Bill Pope of "The Matrix" shoots the entire film as if he were photographing a live action epic. Only time will tell whether this controversial comedy will emerge as the single most important film of our time to dissect the guidance of Washington's war against terrorism.

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