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Hel'n
10-14-2004, 10:56 AM
Fair and balanced: Everyone gets skewered in Team America


By Mike Prevatt


By now you have heard that some conservatives are up in arms about Team America: World Police, the new film by "South Park" masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone. You might have also heard dismissive liberals who also are peeved by its anti-leftist content. Let this be a warning to you: The only people not at risk of being offended by Team America are those comfortably familiar with the sort of over-the-top satire the filmmakers excel in.

For nearly 100 minutes, Parker and Stone take great pains to outrageously skewer anyone participating in the debate over American identity and foreign diplomacy, delivering equal-opportunity hilarity. On one side of the aisle, the violent demise of mouthy Hollywood liberals--as well as Michael Moore--getting theirs, and the absence of any Bush administration officials, makes the film seem like conservative propaganda. However, most of the characters that make up the Team America task force seem fashioned in the arrogant, unilateral and naive image foreigners seem to have of our over-patriotic leaders and citizens.

Team America is essentially a grand summation of emotions bred and stirred since 9/11. Parker and Stone pointedly take no ideological sides; their gross-out commentary is broad and apolitical in theme. Their mocking of endless American institutions is, as Fox News likes to call itself, fair and balanced--they insult, you decide.

What makes this all the more entertaining is the characters in the film are neither human nor cartoons, but marionettes. Inspired by the 1960s series "Thunderbirds," Parker and Stone had thousands of two-foot-tall puppets made, most as replicas of world figures and celebrities such as Moore, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Il. If you're not laughing at them while they're battling, singing, grandstanding, puking or having sex--the source of the film's battle with the MPAA to avoid an NC-17 rating--you might be snickering from just their awkward walking movements. Throw in scaled, detailed sets and several special effects refreshingly free of CG overload, and the film's visual stimulation threatens to distract you from its thematic pratfalls.

The film's plot follows Team America's exploits to prevent terrorist attacks all over the world, regardless of how destructive it is in doing so. Its new undercover member, Gary, is disenchanted by the group's aggressive operations, but he's also dismayed by his fellow actors' involvement in a peace summit with Jong-Il, who wants to psyche out both the Team and the actors long enough to detonate WMDs all over the planet. Somehow, Gary is the chosen one to save the world, but he's not entirely sure he's up for the job.

The story and tone are satirical devices as well, mocking the bombastic and cliché-riddled blockbusters of Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun) and Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor). But the filmmakers also use Gary's soul-searching journey to symbolize the average American pushed and pulled by divisive politics while also torn over personal principles, remarkably finding a balance between sincerity and irony.

Like the movie version of "South Park," Team America features several musical portions that often represent some of the most side-splitting moments in the film. Sent up are cultural institutions like cock-rockers 3 Doors Down ("America, (. x. )(. x. )(. x. )(. x. ) Yeah"), Toby Keith ("Freedom Isn't Free"), Rent ("Everybody Has AIDS") and movie montages ("Montage"). One song roasts Bay by name, and another is sung by the consonant-switching Jong-Il.

One has to wonder if the film's topical specificity and the proximity to the war on terror will permanently render Team America a post-9/11 work. That said, the polemic absurdity that has followed that tragic day has begged for more comic relief than the cultural climate has permitted. Parker and Stone have essentially isolated the over-earnest American response since the attacks and made it even more ridiculous--which might be sobering if it wasn't such a scream.

http://www.lasvegasmercury.com/2004/MERC-Oct-14-Thu-2004/24977894.html