Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2018)
For fairly obvious reasons, Hollywood never embraced marionette-based films. Trey Parker and Matt Stone - best known as the guys behind South Park - sought to change that with 2004’s controversial Team America: World Police.
The film starts with the attempts of Team America to halt terrorists in Paris. They kill their foes - and destroy the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe while they’re at it. Team member Carson (voiced by Trey Parker) asks Lisa (Kristen Miller) to marry him but a terrorist immediately kills him.
From there we head to Broadway where Gary Johnston (Parker) stars in the musical Lease. Spottswoode (Daran Norris) acts as TA’s representative, and he recruits Gary to portray a terrorist to learn about their foes’ plans.
Gary doesn’t immediately agree, but he comes to the group’s South Dakota hideout and meets the Team members. These include former quarterback Joe (Parker), empathic Sarah (Masasa), martial artist Chris (Matt Stone), and psychologist Lisa. Eventually Gary reluctantly agrees to become part of the Team.
Next we meet North Korean President Kim Jong-Il (Parker) and learn he’s the one who supplies the terrorists. TA gets Gary into Cairo to go undercover, where he infiltrates the terrorist organization. When he travels with them, TA goes on the offensive - and wreaks more havoc.
This leads to protests from Hollywood notables who belong to the Film Actors Guild (FAG). Alec Baldwin (Maurice LaMarche) leads the group that also includes Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Liv Tyler and Matt Damon. Terrorists attack Panama as retribution for the events in Cairo and FAG mobilizes against TA.
Eventually FAG forms a partnership with Kim Jong-Il when they think he’ll help create a peace ceremony. The rest of the film follows the Team’s adventures as they battle against the odds to ensure life, liberty and the American way.
I had high hopes for Police, but it only occasionally lives up to those expectations. That’s often true for the work created by Parker and Stone.
For every solid hit like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and certain episodes of that series, they punch out a dud like Orgazmo or Cannibal! The Musical. Police doesn’t fall flat ala those last two, but it lacks the consistency to make it a classic.
The filmmakers do offer a virtually perfect parody of big-budget action flicks, though. They’re too clever to simply replicate scenes from famous movies in that lazy Scary Movie manner.
Instead, they simply steal every stylistic, character and story concept that you’ll find in the genre. From the dialogue to the personalities to the music to the cinematography, Police nails its inspirations.
As one who sometimes enjoys Bruckheimer-style movies as a guilty pleasure, I’m embarrassed at how close they hit the mark here. Police nails all the clichés you’ll easily recognize, and it does so with great humor and insight. The flick doesn’t often provoke a “laugh out loud” response, but it comes across as consistently clever and amusing.
Of course, some specific film references occur, though they usually remain pretty subtle. For example, there’s one fairly incongruous mention of the terrorist attacks as being “the worst parts of the Bible” that deftly lifts from Armageddon.
Obsessed with Star Wars, Parker and Stone also toss out a cool allusion when we go to an Egyptian cantina. I also like the decision to make Kim Jong-Il similar to a Bond villain.
When I read some comments about Police, I found a few criticisms of the flick’s politics. I’ve seen the views of Parker and Stone referred to as “ugly”, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.
The movie skewers both conservatives and liberals. I think you'd be hard-pressed to figure out exactly what Matt and Trey think about politics, as hypocrisy becomes the movie’s only unifying theme.
It’s rare to find a picture that jabs at both sides of the political fence in such a balanced way - not that it always does so with subtlety. The entire opening sequence offers an obvious metaphor in that TA does more damage with their rescue than the terrorists could ever do. In addition, the decision to create the “FAG” acronym is obvious and somewhat cheesy.
Still, the movie gets in its pokes and does so well for the most part. The choice to use marionettes makes the entire enterprise all the more absurd.
Actually, the puppets seem surprisingly demonstrative and expressive. They’re much less stiff than I anticipated and the whole project looks quite good.
I feared that high production values might harm the project, as it seems like it’d benefit from cheesiness. However, it works better with qualities that reflect its high-budget inspirations, as it doesn’t try to wreak many laughs from those elements. It fares best as a pure parody because the movie so closely looks like other action flicks.
Team America: World Police sputters too often to achieve total success. Nonetheless, it gets in a lot of good zingers and presents a deft spoof of action movies while it mocks both sides of the political coin. Don’t expect a classic but give it a look anyway.
Note that this Blu-ray provides the theatrical version of Team America. The DVD brought us the “Uncensored and Unrated” cut, one that differed in a few ways, but most notably via a longer, more graphic sex scene.
Why does the Blu-ray go only for the “R”-rated cut? I have no idea, but it’s a disappointment.