About 75 percent of the laughs in “Team America: World Police” would have remained intact even if the film were shot with live actors, because it’s a funny script. The other 25 percent are there because the film was shot with marionettes, and anything a marionette does is funny. Even walking, even fighting, and especially having sex or vomiting. When a marionette has sex or vomits, you are watching comedy gold, my friends.
“Team America” was written and directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whom you know as the boys behind “South Park.” (They had a third co-writer, Pam Brady, also a regular “South Park” contributor.) The film has exactly the same mix of trenchant socio-political satire, juvenile sex and bodily function jokes, and politically incorrect audacity as the TV show, and that’s probably all you need to know. If you find “South Park” funny, you’ll howl at “Team America.” Otherwise, heaven help you if you try to watch this movie.
Team America is a heroic band of do-gooders, on the order of Sky Captain or the Thunderbirds. (The old “Thunderbirds” TV show, which also used marionettes, was no doubt the inspiration for Parker and Stone’s foray into the medium.) When there’s trouble — lately in the form of international terrorism — Team America arrives on the scene to apprehend or kill the evil-doers, and usually to make a huge mess in the process. Often the mess is worse than the initial threat, which is why much of the world hates Team America, as do many Hollywood actors, all members of the Film Actors Guild (or F.A.G.).
Team America, oblivious to complaints and to its own occasional ineptitude — accidentally knocking over the Eiffel Tower is met with a “Whoops!” — has its headquarters inside Mt. Rushmore, where they are led by the no-nonsense Charlton Heston-ish figure of Spottswoode (voiced by Daran Norris). The rest of the team includes a hothead, a pretty blonde, a martial arts expert, and so on.
When word reaches Team America that a major terrorist plot is being devised, they approach noted Broadway actor Gary Johnston (Trey Parker) with a plan. They want him to use his acting skills to infiltrate the terrorists and foil the plot. Gary is hesitant, but he finally agrees, coaxed somewhat by his affection for the pretty blonde, Lisa (Kristen Miller).
The terrorist plot, by the way, is organized by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who is the film’s breakout character. He is a true Parker/Stone creation, equal parts clever satire and sophomoric cheap shots, and he sounds and behaves like Cartman. Since he’s Asian, he replaces his L’s with R’s when he speaks, a joke that is proudly, unapologetically politically incorrect, and which contributes to his wistful song “I’m So Ronery,” one of several brilliantly funny numbers that “Team America: World Police” contributes to society. (Also among them: “Everyone Has AIDS,” from Gary’s “Rent” spoof, called “Lease”; the patriotic “America: F*** Yeah!”; and “‘Pearl Harbor’ Sucked, and I Miss You.”)
As they do in “South Park,” our boys mock everyone equally in “Team America,” and they do it with finesse. There is no mention of George W. Bush; in fact, there is no implication that America even HAS a president. Team America represents U.S. foreign policy, of course, and plenty of fun is had at its expense. But there is also some ruthless satire of liberal Hollywood actors and their need to voice opinions on everything. When the final battle occurs, some of these actors meet the goriest deaths of anyone in the film. (Marionette gore?! What will they think of next!)
But more than that, the film is also a dead-on parody of big-budget action movies. The Team America characters often speak in tersely worded clichÃ©s and make melodramatic pronouncements, and all of the action scenes are amusing low-budget interpretations of a typical Jerry Bruckheimer production.
The puppets are well-made, and many of the models and sets are extremely impressive. Animation, especially the cheap kind Parker and Stone favor, would have been millions of dollars cheaper, but not nearly as funny. This is a frenetic, shocking, hysterical comedy, and I can say without reservation that it features the funniest sex scene ever filmed. Try to top THAT, Muppets.
A- (1 hr., 37 min.; )