Over the years, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have tackled many heavy issues on their smash-hit television show “South Park.” From Charles Dickens to Elian Gonzales, they have time and again demonstrated their aptitude for pointing out how stupid people are. In their new movie, “Team America: World Police,” they take on what is quite possibly the heaviest issue so far: the United States and its war on terrorism. Once again, they effortlessly lampoon their targets with hawk-like accuracy in a movie that is several types of satire in one.
“Team America” is the story of a squad of highly skilled freedom-fighters whose job it is to eradicate terrorism and make the world a safe place for everyone. Of course, one cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and indeed the World Police often blow up national monuments in their war on terror. Don’t worry, though. It’s not like they’re blowing up American monuments or anything. The protagonist is Gary Johnston, a Broadway actor recruited by Team America to use his acting skills to infiltrate a terrorist organization and find out where their weapons of mass destruction are being hidden. Oh yeah, they’re all puppets.
The rest of the plot unfolds according to the tried and true Hollywood action movie formula. Indeed, this movie is first and foremost a satire of Hollywood action movies, most notably the films of producer Jerry Bruckheimer whose movies are so full of hokey emotion and ridiculous plot contrivances. “Team America” spoofs them almost effortlessly, without even having to change much. Once all the actors have been replaced by marionettes, the rest sort of takes care of itself.
Their second major target is the current state of world events, most notably America’s tendency to set itself up as world police. Clearly, this is a volatile issue, and many audience members may take offense at seeing a contemporary life-or-death situation turned into comic material. However, comedy has always been humanity’s way of dealing with life’s unpleasantness, and indeed history tends to remember good satire very favorably. The important thing to keep in mind with regards to this film is that Parker and Stone are equal-opportunity satirists. The movie points out the silliness of every side, and doesn’t try to push an agenda of any kind. The terrorists are made to look ridiculous, as are the North Koreans, the activist actors, the French, Michael Moore and yes, America.
The third target of this film’s satire is actors, most specifically the ones who set themselves up as important spokespeople on world events. It was here that the film went a little overboard. The satire of actors took a larger and larger role as the movie went on, and the prominence of actors in the movie didn’t quite fit the other themes being developed. This imbalance is easily overlooked, because the actor jokes are funny and don’t actually bog down the story of the film.
Finally, “Team America” also works as an action comedy. Parker and Stone are able to use their stories as vehicles for satire while constantly remaining true to the story they are telling. A lesser satirist would allow the story to take a backseat to their spoofing, but Parker and Stone never fall into this trap. “Team America”, like their other work, remains a fully realized tale of heroism, terror and high drama. Fans will also be happy to know it is full of clever gross-out humor and sex jokes.
America’s actions since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have raised a lot of questions among its populace, and the country is divided over these complex issues. In “Team America” Parker and Stone point out the ridiculousness of both sides and summarize the whole thing neatly and succinctly in a revolting metaphor involving genitalia. Truly, this is satire at its very best.