Closing out 5th Ave. Cinema’s winter quarter screenings is Team America: World Police, Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s send-up of Jerry Bruckheimer-esque action films.
The film thrusts Broadway heartthrob Gary (voiced by Parker) into the ranks of the titular action faction with hopes of violently dismantling a terrorist organization headed by Kim Jong Il (remember that guy?) and a band of diabolical Hollywood celebrities. With sheer brute force and tons of guns, Team America fight to protect—or as the case often is, accidentally destroy—the world and end America’s war on terror.
But is the war on terrorism funny?
This is a question that an MSNBC anchor asked South Park creators Parker and Stone while they marketed the release of Team America in 2004. The interview, which had been all laughs and smiles up to that point, suddenly became quite tense and uncomfortable. A decade later, the anchor’s question still prompts the same simple answer that Stone responded with: No. But if you add puppets into the equation, it can at least be fairly humorous.
The problem with this question is that it guts out the core of the film and instead creates an incendiary political topic that critics love to latch onto and lambaste. When the film was released, this happened to the point where Team America actually entered into the political dialogue of the country. It was taken as a critique of the Bush administration, making light of America’s fight against terrorism and the North Korea situation.
All of this insensitivity must have been magnified given that the film was released only three years after 9/11. People were furious, people were amused, but most importantly, people were affected. They were thinking and talking about the political and societal topics that Parker and Stone had interjected between the offensive show tunes and steamy marionette sex scenes.
Parker and Stone, hate ’em or love ’em, are to be treasured precisely because of their ability to get people to think critically about the world around them. Sometimes misguided, always juvenile, the duo’s method of interjecting culturally and politically relevant commentary into their television shows and movies might be why their work has seen lasting appreciation.
To add to the political fervor, the subject material of Team America: World Police lends itself almost too easily to humor. It’s even in the name. To some it may seem that the two are mocking America and the wanton desire to police every country in the world (they are), but this does not make the film remarkably anti-American. A fine line is walked between self-deprecation and self-awareness, and whichever side the audience falls on more than likely decides how they will view Parker and Stone’s collective work.
Although the brand of humor in the film may not appeal to some nearly as much as it did when it was released, it’s hard not to recommend seeing Team America for yourself. Apart from the minds that created it and the subjects explored within, there’s an unsung beauty about the fact that a movie like this even exists. A large budget, Hollywood-made American action film that spits on America, Hollywood and action films, and exclusively stars puppets should by all rights not exist in this world. But somehow it is here for us to enjoy.
Kim Jong Il wrote a nice letter to Parker and Stone following a personal screening of Team America in which he stated that he found their depiction of him in the film very disrespectful. A few years later, Kim Jong Il died at the age of 69. I do not think he ever did anything funnier.
This is directly in confluence with the aforementioned beauty of the mere existence of Team America. Where does the juvenile humor of the film end and the unfortunate reality of the world begin? See if you can navigate your way out this weekend.