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.