Addicted to novelty since 2001

Very Flinching Satire

Team America: World Police should be an incisive attack on American foregn policy. It should also be a hilarious spoof of action movies. Unfortunately, it’s neither. Instead, it’s an unoriginal, hollow movie that barely flirts with political satire. Worse, it’s not very funny. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s previous film, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, was both enormously funny and subtly seditious. Perhaps it was unfair of me to expect more of the same from Team America, but I left disappointed.

The plot of Team America revolves around a kind of red, white and blue Justice League of America, who fight terrorists with lustful abandon on foreign and domestic shores. The film features all the usual action movie characters–the reticent hero, the love interest, the super-villian (a fey but lonely Kim Jong-Il is a rare bright spot)–and conventions. In fact, a number of scenes and lines are borrowed directly from other films.

While Parker and Stone do take some lame potshots at the US as global bully, it’s a tired idea and very flinching parody. For example, no American leader is satirized in the film. In fact, the creators seem to go out of their way to separate the America government and way of life from Team America. Without revealing the film’s conclusion, their indictment of American foreign policy is, at best, wishy-washy. At the same time, they’re pretty light on the United Nations. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, if this is what passes for satire in the 21st century, we ought to be seriously worried.

What are their other targets for satire? Those pillars of our culture, action movies and Hollywood. Could they aim any lower? If you’ve seen Hotshots (or nearly any film starring Leslie Neilsen), you’ll know that spoofing action movies is hardly an original idea. As for Hollywood, this is terrain that was well-covered (and to more entertaining effect) in South Park.

Even if you don’t care about the film’s themes, and just want to be entertained, Team America lets you down. There are a couple of exceptionally funny moments (a puppet sex scene and a parody of the musical Rent), but the belly laughs were few and far-between. A number of the gags were predictable–a real surprise after the absurdism of South Park. Team America also lacks the great songs of Stone and Parker’s previous work. Nothing in this movie comes close to the quality of “La Resistance” or “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”.

While the film looks great–its attention to detail is extraordinary, it has little else going for it. Unfortunately, it lacks the lampoonery of, say, Airplane and the smart social criticism of Wag the Dog. You’re better off renting those two movies, or just watching your South Park DVD.

3 Responses to “Very Flinching Satire”

  1. filmgoerjuan

    But the songs, man, the songs!

    I quite enjoyed the film myself which was a little surprising considering that I had built it up in my mind (to the point where I went to the sneak preview of the film, not being able to wait until its general release). It’s dumb, it’s a bit obvious at times, but I also found it to be fresh and funny. And the puppetry is very, very good (sometimes it’s so bad, but that’s just how good the puppeteers are…it takes a lot of skill to make it look as bad as it does in those shots!).

    “I promise you I will never die”…who can resist a line like that?

  2. joke

    The fundamental problem with the film is that it wasn’t a satire… it was just making a lot of jokes, many of which weren’t that funny. It’s hard to take issues that are so charged and just make fun of them, without giving any consideration to their political context. It failed.

  3. daryl

    dammit darren, turn your brain off!

    team america isn’t taking itself seriously enough to warrant this type of criticism. it deliberately aims low, and hits the mark with a rich level of satisfaction that most films dream of. if everyone else had the balls that these guys do, the world would be a much better place. if you were seriously looking for clever political satire, you shouldn’t be asking for it from mr. trey parker. sit back, and enjoy the puppet pornography. nobody nails the dick and fart jokes quite like these guys.

    oh, and wag the dog contains “smart, social criticism?” hmm, i guess i was too busy being BEATEN OVER THE HEAD REPEATEDLY FOR 90 MINUTES BY ITS ANYTHING-BUT-SUBTLE AGENDA that i couldn’t pick up on any of that. thanks for stating the obvious, levinson! way to herd those masses!

Comments are closed.