By Alan Scherstuhl
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Carolina Del Busto
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Kevin Dilmore
By New Times
By Amy Nicholson
The action begins in France ("3,635 miles east of America"), in a scene that begins with a hilarious fake-out, then proceeds to embody every French stereotype you can imagine, notably a little boy in a sailor suit singing "Frères Jacques" until he bumps into an Osama bin Laden look-alike carrying a suitcase nuke. The second this Arab terrorist appears, imitation Middle Eastern chanting fades in on the soundtrack. Then Team America shows up in star-spangled jumpsuits and takes out the bad guys while also blowing up most of Paris. It soon becomes clear that this is standard procedure for them -- in every country the team visits (all of which are defined by their geographical distance from America, or in the case of Panama, from "the real America"), they end up inadvertently blowing up all the major national landmarks. Not for nothing is their logo a bald eagle with a globe in its beak.
The plot thickens when Team America needs to infiltrate a terrorist group, so it recruits Gary (voiced, like 80 percent of the characters in the movie, by Trey Parker), a Broadway actor first seen starring in a musical called Lease, singing a song with the refrain "Everyone has AIDS . . .AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS!" Gary, who vaguely resembles Brad Pitt and speaks with Shatneresque dramatic pauses, is allegedly the world's greatest actor, and thus he will be surgically altered (i.e. have brown shoe polish rubbed on his face and bits of hair glued to his chin) in order to infiltrate a Chechen cell based in Cairo. Ultimately, the trail will lead to North Korean despot Kim Jong-il (Parker again), who sounds like the City Wok restaurant proprietor on South Park and gets the film's one true musical set piece with a number titled "I'm So Ronery" (that's "lonely" spoken with a stereotypical Asian accent).
In a cinematic era in which so-called parody movies tend to simply stage soulless by-the-numbers re-creations of scenes from other familiar movies (David Zucker, Wayans brothers, Shrek: We're looking at you), Parker gets kudos for remembering that the best parodies are the ones that lampoon clichs you didn't even realize were clichs before seeing the spoof. From the hero's hidden childhood trauma (Gary's acting once led to the death of a family member in preposterous fashion), to the deadly earnest dialogue ("What reason do you have to believe?" "Sometimes . . .believing is all we have"), ridiculous top-secret acronyms (the team's talking computer is called I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.), and note-perfect music parodies (the imitation Diane Warren-Aerosmith power ballad, the patriotic country song that boasts "Freedom isn't free, no there's a hefty fuckin' fee," the "Montage" song cribbed from South Park, and the imitation Lisa Gerrard score over a scene of tragedy), no Bruckheimer staple is left unscorched. Scenes of vomiting have become an unfortunate touchstone of many modern action films, and Team America responds with a number that just might outdo The Meaning of Life on that score. Meanwhile, Bruckheimer fave Michael Bay gets singled out for particular scorn in a love song about how awful Pearl Harbor was ("I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school").
Questions have been raised on both sides of the political aisle as to the agenda of Team America, though as with many episodes of South Park, Parker and collaborator Matt Stone have an amazing knack for finding middle ground on controversial issues. Here, they mock right-wing American machismo, self-centeredness, and the love of gratuitous destruction; however, they are also savage toward those on the left who automatically take the side of the countries opposing America no matter what, represented onscreen by Alec Baldwin (voice credited to Maurice La Marche, though it was rumored at one point that Baldwin would play himself) and the Film Actors Guild, or F.A.G. (hee hee hee). The Baldwin parody is dead-on, though the depiction of Michael Moore is reduced to obvious fat jokes (one wonders if Stone regrets being in Bowling for Columbine). Other voice talents include radio host Phil Hendrie, video-game voice-over artist Masasa, and That's My Bush's Kristen Miller.
Bottom line: It's hilarious, vicious, offensive, thoroughly profane, and a joy to watch, just like you'd expect. Be sure to sit through the end credits for a bonus song from Kim Jong-il to Alec Baldwin.
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