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Team America: World Police

(2004) *** R
98 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Trey Parker. Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Phil Hendrie.

Team America: World Police--the new feature-film comedy from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone--isn't so much profanity-laced as profanity-based. By restaging the Hollywood action extravaganza in the style of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation, Parker and Stone give themselves free reign for comedic madness and rampant tastelessness, blunted just so by the cheerful casting of literally wooden performers.

The boys up the ante by setting their narrative sights on the most patriotic of action plots: the good guys save America by taking down terrorists. While Hollywood has wisely shied, since 9/11, from baiting audiences with Arab villains, Parker and Stone unleash the Jerry Bruckheimer id with the movie we all know Hollywood would seriously like to make. It's all here: the horrible one-liners ("Hey terrorist--terrorize this!"), the credits exploding into the screen, the exotic locales (each defined by its distance from America, the apparent center of the universe), and the thundering action theme song ("America--F**k yeah!").

In this first act, Parker, Stone, and co-writer Pam Brady relentlessly undermine the clueless imperialism and self-love of so much of the American public. The film's first scene essays America as seen by the rest of the world. Team America temporarily foil WMD-wielding terrorists in Paris while blithely laying waste to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre. "Everything is bon," the Team declares to the gobsmacked citizenry. "We stopped the terrorists!" Soon, the team's leader--smiling madman Spottswoode--is recruiting a Broadway actor named Gary for a crucial espionage mission. As the reluctant actor ponders his call to action, Parker overlays one of his trademark musical japes, a dead-on faux-heartland tune called "Freedom Isn't Free" ("It costs folks like you and me.")

But the writers don't stop at undermining conservativism. They trample on through liberal Hollywood to mercilessly mock self-important celebrities. Though it'd be difficult to choose the most tasteless gag in a movie which narrowly dodged an NC-17 rating and includes an encyclopedic run-down of sexual positions vigorously enacted by marionettes, the rebranding of the Screen Actors Guild as the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.) must surely rank near the top, if not over it. Alec Baldwin ("the best actor in the world"), Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon, and many others take their licks. The actors play henchmen and henchwomen to the film's overlord villain, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (voiced by Parker as a Cartman-esque Napoleon); meanwhile, Michael Moore is portrayed as a power-mad suicide bomber.

If the celebrity hounding most nakedly resembles South Park, Parker's Kim Jong Il routines bring to mind South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the feature which initiated the image of Saddam Hussein in a homosexual tryst with the devil. Kim Jong Il is the dictatorial equivalent of the sad clown: raging on the outside, and crying on the inside. Kick yourself as you might, you'll be hard pressed not to laugh at his musical monologue "I'm Ronery," written in the blatantly offensive patois of the archetypal Asian comedy accent. Team America: World Police is defiantly puerile, and though its less-inspired comedic obsessions grow wearying before the ninety-minute mark, the film cannot be denied its humorous high points. Where else can you get a romantic ballad which turns out to be more interested in bashing Pearl Harbor than professing love? In those glorious minutes, you'll learn all you need to know about Trey Parker and Matt Stone. For mainstream America, it'll be more than enough.

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