Smaller, Shorter, and Most Definitely Cut

team_america_team.jpgFirst, re simulated puppet oral sex: With the MPAA's bell still ringing in my ears, I'm content knowing that Alfredo has saved the ridiculously hacked out shot for little Toto to watch later, perhaps on the DVD. How our high priests of censorship can fixate on a single shot while passing on its extra-explicit scene--and the puppet-sutra montage earlier in the film--remains a mystery to me.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America World Police, like Baseketball and Orgazmo before it, is the movie equivalent of an aging high school football star; a promising talent gone unwittingly to pot without a tough, discipline-minded coach to whip him into shape. In their first film, Cannibal!, no-budget constraints and hunger [sic] for success forced the duo to work smart. And compared to animation, where you lock the script first, or live action, where you can only rewrite pages on the set, shooting puppets allows unparalleled slack; you can lay down dialogue until opening night [and in some scenes, it feels like they did].

team_america_kji.jpgWhich is not to say the film can't throw. Team America really hits the musical numbers, at least. Just as I lost patience with the whiny Kim Jong Il, he broke into hilarious, touching song, revealing the hurt child within. [Of course, making your evil mastermind (sym)pathetic throws a blow-em-up action movie off key. Unless theyíre doctors, we want our world-destroying villains just evil, thanks. Drax and Stromberg never tried to win us over, and if anyone had believed Saddamís take-me-back breakdancing song, heíd still be in power.]

Where the prophetic South Park: The Movie mapped and mocked the US political landscape with eerily incisive accuracy, Team Americaís politics are an ill-prepared, willfully uninformed quagmire. The World Police's infectious theme song and blithe disregard for the rest of the world ring all too true, but the movie's key talking points might as well be choked out by a drunken divebar hobo. And, in fact, they are.

Put too much focus on the terrorists and WMDís, though, and youíd be taking your eye off the ball. The real evildoers in Team America are right in Parker & Stone's backyard, Hollywood. Cause-of-the-month actor activism and above-Sunset sanctimony--as personified by the likes of Sean Penn and Alex Baldwin [Your good reviews for The Cooler aren't fooling anybody, Baldwin.]--are the real threat to Our American Way Of Life. Besides Michael Bay's ex-agent, Matt & Trey are the only people who're still bitter about Pearl Harbor enough to write a whole angry puppet song about it.

On Fresh Air yesterday, Matt Stone (the Sabrina Duncan one) told Terry that the idea for the movie came from reading the insipid one-line pitch that sold the spec script for The Day After Tomorrow in the trades: "Sudden global warming causes worldwide catastrophe." One-liner? Spec? The trades? Hollywood? You're soaking in it!

Here's my one-line pitch: Two South Park guys are at the party for seven-plus years, hit show, hit movie, but [if the condescending tone of Sean Penn's letter is any indication] the oh-so-cool kids don't wanna hang with them, so they take their nerdy revenge.

Unfortunately, some things haven't changed since high school; cinematic booger flicking often ends up missing the mark, too. As a sendup of action film, Team America lets far too many references go unmocked. A terrorist striking the Karate Kid pose in the opening sequence says hope is on the way, but a couple of funny Star Wars gags aren't nearly enough to reach the parodic heights of an Airplane! or even a Hot Shots Part Deux. Just one example from my pea-sized brain: the first thing the Asian Lottery Winner decor of Kim Jong Il's lair mademe think of was "Lo Pan, Big Trouble In Little China." Too bad restaurant and set designer David Rockwell had no idea what that means. Disappointments like that popped up over and over.

On the plus side, "Lease" should be on Broadway; the "We Need A Montage" montage was genius; Hummel figurines? Bwahahahaha; running puppets through a Matrix Bullet Time fight sequence was inspired; and his performance as John, the actor-phobic Team member is the best of Aaron Eckhart's career.

I'm ending it here, because if there's one thing Team America teaches us, it's that if you go looking for a big finish, you'll probably end up blowing it.

Related: My previous side-splitting posts about Team America and its deep, meaningful resonance with my own work.
Matt Stone interviewed on Fresh Air, 10/14/04 []
Xeni interviews the boys for Day-to-Day, warning: seeing KJI's video clip may obviate the need to actually see the film. []
Real critics complain, but like the movie. What's wrong with me?: David Edelstein, Tony Scott, J. Hoberman
Sean Penn's pissy letter. Very Heathers. [um, drudge? I feel so dirty.] crashed my browser and disappeared my previous attempt to post, so type it yourself.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

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first published: October 15, 2004.

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