TCS Daily


Believe the Hype

By Michael Totten - October 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Believe the hype. Team America: World Police is the funniest movie since, well, South Park. This newest release by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone is insulting, gross, juvenile, and offensive -- everything a 15-year old boy or a grown-up political junkie could hope for.

This is Hollywood's first-ever movie about the Terror War. But it's not about what has happened so far. Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and George W. Bush aren't mentioned, not even once. Team America is a fictional Chapter Two (or perhaps Chapter Three) of what might -- but almost certainly won't -- happen next.

North Korea's Kim Jong Il doles out weapons of mass destruction to Middle Eastern terrorists and orders them planted all over the world. He rigs them to explode all at once, hoping to plunge the globe into anarchy. Meanwhile, the lonely Stalinist invites world dignitaries and Hollywood actors to Pyongyang for a "peace conference" on the eve destruction. It's all up to the soldier-police of Team America to put a stop to his plans.

This is a puppet movie. You can see strings attached throughout the whole thing. The puppets don't walk, they bounce. Fight scenes are rendered by crashing puppets into each other and shaking the strings. There are no live actors. And it's no wonder. None of the Hollywood stars Parker and Stone "enlist" would have returned casting calls. Parker and Stone don't work with real people, anyway. When they aren't playing with puppets they're directing cardboard cut-out hooligan children in South Park.

Team America has no allies. Team America doesn't even seem to have a president. Team America is literally unilateral. Team America is apparently unaccountable. Team America was not elected. Team America just is. And Team America is recklessly, arrogantly, cluelessly destructive.

The movie opens in Paris. Terrorists walk the streets with a weapon of mass destruction concealed in a briefcase. A red, white, and blue helicopter appears in the sky. The gunner fires a missile at the terrorists and knocks over the Eiffel Tower instead. An over-the-top jingoistic theme song plays in the background: "America, Fuck Yeah!" The only thing missing here is a gloating broadcaster puppet on Fox.

A missile does hit the terrorists, but only after the bad guys run for shelter in The Louvre -- which is promptly demolished. Team America declares victory while shell-shocked French puppets stand aghast next to their ruined cultural artifacts. Do the soldier-police apologize? Of course not. They're trigger-happy philistine meatheads.

Team America's newest member is an actor from Broadway who is an expert in "world languages." Plastic surgeons cut up his face to make him look Middle Eastern so he can infiltrate a terrorist network in Cairo. His "disguise" is the grossest possible caricature of an Arab. But the joke isn't on Arabs. It's on the Team America members who think the disguise is convincing.

The incompetence on display in Paris only gets worse once Team America makes it to Egypt. The "actor" heads straight for the terrorist hangout and...well, let's just say that he's a tad unaware of where in the world he actually is. He plays a terrorist as convincingly as an Afghan poppy farmer could pass for Oliver North. He's found out, of course. A chase scene ensues. The pyramids and the Sphinx are blown up long before any terrorists are.

The Daily Show's John Stewart, talented as he is, has never skewered the Terror War hawks so effectively. Unilateralism, unaccountability, ignorance of foreign lands, shrugging at collateral damage, mindless gung-ho patriotism, it's all there. But if the first half is leftist, the second half plays as though Ann Coulter wrote it.

The turning point comes when Michael Moore, portrayed as a hotdog-chomping "socialist weasel," straps a bomb to his belly and blows up Mount Rushmore. It's all downhill for the anti-war left after that.

Kim Jong Il invites liberal activists from Hollywood, along with world leaders from every country (except, it seems, from America) to Pyongyang for a farcical "peace conference" love-in. Alec Baldwin, Janeane Garofalo, Matt Damon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Susan Sarandon have roles as gun-toting useful idiots who try to take out the Team America heroes. The Matt Damon puppet is the dumbest of all. All he can say is his own name like a mouth-breathing monotone moron. Why Matt Damon is singled so dismissively isn't clear. I sure hope he can laugh at "himself."

In the end, Parker and Stone portray the buffoons of Team America as the good guys. They may be reckless and insensitive, but hey, at least they try to do the right thing. Kim Jong Il and the Hollywood activists are shot, mutilated, and impaled for atrocious behavior that isn't even well-meaning.

That's what makes this movie "conservative." Parker and Stone mock people on both sides. But no conservatives or defense hawks are singled out personally. Only fictional righties are ever made fun of, and still they are shown some affection. There is no affection shown for the lefties. They are dispensed with contempt.

Even so, liberals who can handle jokes at their own expense should enjoy this movie much more than religious conservatives who are bound to be offended by graphic puppet sex and profanity. Those who swooned over Mel Gibson's The Passion are advised to stay home.

Team America indulges the worst Hollywood stereotypes ever. But in doing so it also partly debunks them. Team America, after all, is a product of Hollywood. And as Roger L. Simon pointed out on his blog, "the first major studio release about the War on Terror is actually in favor of the war." Think of this movie as Hollywood's self-interrogation, and as evidence that the place is not a cultural monolith. Parker and Stone did the city they lampooned a favor.

Michael J. Totten is a TCS columnist. Visit his daily Web log at http://michaeltotten.com.


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