Team America: World Police

Like the best political satires, “Team America” only grows more relevant as the face of politics changes.
Movie Review #964


NOTE: This is a review of the unrated version, which received an NC-17 rating upon its submission. Forty seconds from this cut were removed for the theatrical version. Why they even needed to be removed to retain an R rating, is beyond me.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created an absolute masterpiece. They’ve started with the idea of marionette animation, as popularized in the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds, and from there, they’ve created something completely original, completely adult, completely aberrant, completely hilarious, and completely brilliant. On one level, “Team America: World Police” is just a movie about puppets that swear like sailors and screw like animals. On another level, it’s a spoof of action movies and their most tired tropes. And on yet another level, it’s a brilliant satire on the American government and its obsession with policing the world (hence the title).

The story is powerfully simple: a government-commissioned squad known as Team America steps in and preemptively stops terrorists from attacking other countries. (Interestingly enough, the first place they are seen saving is Paris; as far as paralleling current events, this movie was way ahead of its time.) There’s a few romantic side stories introduced, too—perhaps as homages to such melodrama in action TV during the 1970s.

Oh and there’s other side stories that poke fun at specific figures in pop culture. That George W. Bush might be the greatest indication of how wildly “Team America” steers its wheels away from convention. By far the most unforgettable of these caricatures is that of Kim Jong-Il. Parker and Stone have reduced the previous leader of North Korea to a hysterically one-dimensional Asian stereotype who whines like a two-year-old when he doesn’t get his way. Late in the movie, Kim has his own musical soliloquy: “I’m So Ronery”.

Which reminds me. “Team America: World Police” isn’t just any sort of comedy; it’s actually a musical. This is a genre Parker and Stone have toyed with constantly. Their first film, made in college, was “Cannibal! The Musical”. They followed it with “Orgazmo”, another musical. Musical numbers featured heavily in their TV series South Park, and its own feature adaptation (“Bigger, Longer & Uncut”) was an outright musical. Let’s not forget their most recent opus, The Book of Mormon. But none of these musicals seem to match up with the lyrical brilliance of “Team America”. Every song here is memorable for one reason or another. For those familiar with the Broadway show Rent, that’s sent up here with a song called “Everyone Has AIDS”.

Though the crème de la crème of this soundtrack is “America (F—k Yeah)”. The song glorifies America for its commercialism and its cultural imperialism in such a way that transcends a mild term like “tongue-in-cheek.” Better yet, it’s an awesome song that’s only been improved upon by its lyrics. I will shamelessly admit that I watched “Team America” for the first time about a month and a half ago, and I’ve listened to this very song 30 or 40 times since. There are, in fact, two versions of the song that feature in the movie, and each one fits the satire to a “T.”

I loved “Team America: World Police”, and I only love it more as I think back on it. It’s a movie that demands to be watched multiple times, and one that ages like wine. A whole decade after it first hit theaters, its relevance is still appreciated. This past December, after “The Interview” was pulled from theaters, Texas movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse announced that they would show “Team America” instead. I really wish other chains would have followed suite.


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