In 1999, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone released a feature motion picture based on the wildly popular Comedy Central series. The result was one of the sharpest, most insightful, filthiest and funniest movies made in the past decade.
They returned to cinema in 2004 with Team America: World Police, a puppet picture liberally laced with foul language, bodily functions and even a couple of marionettes getting their strings amorously tangled. It's an idea that, on paper, seems inspired.
The film fails to deliver on its promise.
Ostensibly a political satire, the movie strives to be an equal opportunity offender. Republicans, Democrats, patriots and terrorists - all are painted with the same broad brush. And while the best satire rarely needs a concise political agenda, Team America's intent is so scattered, so all-inclusive and, in true Parker/Stone fashion, so over-the-top, that is seems to be seeking offense for its own sake.
Still, Team America is not without merit. While it stumbles as a satire, it excels as a spoof. Taking the liquid reality of summer action films and shrinking them to puppet size, the men are able to keenly observe the ridiculous nature of the brawny big-budget flicks. By playing the situations semi-straight, they expose the man behind the curtain, showing the audience that the big blasts, stilted speeches and other accouterments of the genre are high comedy, if you allow them to be.
The other place the film excels is the production design. Sure, the puppets display the disjointed walk, talk and action acumen expected of marionettes. But the environments they inhabit, crazy-quilt cities based, albeit loosely, on Cairo, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and London, the palace of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and a secret base hidden inside Mount Rushmore, are lavishly detailed. True, they don't exactly lend authenticity to the proceedings, but they do offer a sense of legitimacy.
TITLE: Team America: World Police ($29.95; Paramount)
RELEASE DATE: Coming Tuesday
THE VERDICT: 2 out of 5 Stars
DVD EXTRAS: Mostly focused on the hows, rather than the whys, the short features get a little tech heavy at times. Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker add the same sort of irreverence to conversations about set design and character rendering, however, as they do to jokes about sex and vomit.