Team America: good for a couple of laughs

Aside from its political messages, Team America: World Police teaches us a valuable lesson: Puppets are only funny for about 45 minutes. Unfortunately for creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, that?s about an hour less than their new movie.
Team America is the South Park creators? latest take on America?s current affairs, picking up where the ever-increasingly political episodes of South Park have left off. It follows the United States? top line of defense: Team America, a five-member team of civilians-turned-soldiers in an arrangement that is borrowed from other action movies. Their goal is to stop terrorists with weapons of mass destruction in a plot led by crazed Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.
The writers? stance on politics and fighting terrorism is about as subtle as Delta Upsilon?s pro-war rally two years ago. Needless to say, standard political satire targets George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are absent. Instead, Parker and Stone turn their focus on anti-war personalities like Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, and Michael Moore. These puppet celebrity gags run thin quickly and use tired stereotypes for the most part (Michael Moore is fat? Really?) but still provide some funny moments.
The writers also take jabs at their own pro-war stance, which has the team of commandos blowing up landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Sphinx. The team members are so caught up with being American and making sure that the world is safe that they pay no regard to the destruction they cause. When one of the team members destroys the Louvre, the his only reaction is ?Sh?t, I missed the terrorist!? The most prevalent example of their blatantly awful Americanism is the hard rock song that plays every time the team springs into action from their hidden base in Mount Rushmore, titled ?America, F?k Yeah!?
Parker and Stone?s take on other cultures is twisted. France?s streets are paved with croissants. The language of the terrorists consists almost entirely of the words ?Jihad? and ?Muhammad.? The terrorists hold their WMDs in a country called ?Durkadurkastan.? Kim Jong Il can?t pronounce any of his L?s. These stereotypes fit the movie?s theme, but, like almost everything else in it, they grow tiresome after an hour and a half.
The strength of the movie is in its original soundtrack, which borrows heavily from the success of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. From the takeoff on the musical Rent ?Everyone Has AIDS? to Kim Jong Il?s song about being lonely, these songs are surprisingly well written and hilarious. However, these songs are spread far apart and often don?t do enough to offset the slow-moving action.
Stone and Parker never let the audience forget that every character is a marionette. This sets the tone for the movie early in a hand-to-hand combat scene that showcases the limits of marionette puppeteering. While this is funny at first, it is relied on for too many laughs in the movie. It?s almost as if the writers got tired of coming up with ideas ? ?Hey, let?s just let the puppets walk around in public places! That?s good for at least five minutes of film right there!?
The film never compounds its funny moments into hilarious moments, eliciting only chuckles from the audience. Too often it feels like the movie is holding back in order to be taken more seriously as a satire. It never really commits either way, and the final result is an unsatisfying mix of serious political comedy and South Park silliness.
The result is a movie that tries too hard. In trying so hard to parody action films, the political satire is weakened. The puppets are controlled artfully and give the actors behind them the liberty to say anything, but too often the things they say have no real motivation. The whole thing seems better suited to an hour-long Comedy Central special than a full-length movie. Team America is a film whose parts are better than the whole.

Christian D?Andrea