American commandoes recruit an actor to thwart the ultimate terrorist plot.
Directed by Trey Parker
Starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Review by Jon Kissel
For two people with as much actor antipathy as Parker and Stone, the first half of the 2000’s must have been an insufferable time. I’m a person who despises every decision the US made in this time period, who’s read the books and listened to the podcasts and watched the documentaries about how epically, colossally wrong the response to 9/11 was, and I’ll admit that the protests against the Bush administration and the Iraq War still activate something negative in my brain. The loudest voices were celebrities like those in Team America who are served up for death and dismemberment. Why were these people speaking at anti-war marches as opposed to someone who knew what they were talking about? Doesn’t everyone turn the channel when an actor like Joaquin Phoenix rails against the meat industry during his Oscar acceptance speech? In Parker’s and Stone’s telling, actors implicitly understand that they’re beautiful frauds whose social power comes from the public’s inability to distinguish reality from fiction, and they pretend to be socially aware citizens to cover up for this fact. Every Hollywood person who’s ever put on glasses when they appear on Real Time with Bill Maher is playing this game. The non-beautiful people of the world recognize this and some part of them rejects whatever actor activists are saying, even if the sentiment is correct and the cause is just.
The most charitable case towards Team America’s satire is imagining the film as a proto-Witch, such that it constructs a world that ratifies its characters’ worst fears and assumptions. Broadway plays are about homosexuals and AIDS, foreign languages are a bunch of simplistic gibberish, and other countries have value inasmuch as they allows Americans to do whatever they want with/in them. Parker and Stone drill into a key part of American imperialism, where even if we make mistakes, our intentions are good, and those good intentions should both let us off the hook and allow us to keep making mistakes. Other countries like North Korea do things like torture captives, despite the fact that at the same time the Team America characters are filmed being tortured, America and American flunkies are torturing their own captives. What fouls this interpretation is the big speech trope at the end that Team America borrows from every South Park episode, and which is also cribbed from a South Park episode about more or less the same thing. The dicks of the world are needed to keep assholes in line, while the pussies of the world restrain the dicks from fucking too much up. The fact that Parker and Stone have reused this idea implies that it’s close to what they think, but it’s a bankrupt message that I’m not willing to ignore just because it comes out of the mouth of a janky puppet.
Parker and Stone do this to themselves when they stop their film dead so a character can monologue a vulgar version of the semi-fascist sheep-wolves-sheepdogs metaphor. There are so many other parts of Team America where I want to live. The spoof aspect of reckless destruction of famous monuments combined with the braindead decisions that most characters in action films are forced to make is great, but it’s topped by the film’s soundtrack. Parker’s and Stone’s love of musicals was demonstrated with the South Park movie, and it continues here with hilarious send-ups of plaintive Alan Jackson hackery and over-the-top anthems like the iconic America, Fuck Yeah! The purposely bad filmmaking/puppeteering is just as funny on multiple rewatches, and the length of the sex scene and the vomit scene is heroic. It would be nice if Parker and Stone found a way into Kim Jong Il that didn’t rely so heavily on his bad English. He was perhaps the most arrogant man in the world when he was alive and therefore squarely within the sights of what most irks Parker and Stone, but they primarily focus on turning his l’s into r’s.
Team America can be a great comedy and have a muddled to incoherent message. Step Brothers doesn’t have much to say, and neither does Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. By attempting to say anything at all, Team America invites judgment on the value of its themes. They’re so put off by arrogance, but isn’t it arrogant to ask everyone to calm down and listen while you explain why everyone’s wrong but you? Are they both voting for Andrew Yang’s dumbass political party at the next opportunity? Don’t make bootlicking excuses for American imperialism when I’m trying to enjoy these puppets shitting on each other’s chests. B