Thursday, December 25, 2014

Team America: World Police

Note: The following review was written prior to Sony deciding to release The Interview in a limited theatrical run and on VOD. We decided that the reasons for posting this review of Team America: World Police were still valid.

On December 25, 2014, Sony Pictures planned to release a movie called The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, about two guys who are sent into North Korea for an interview with Kim Jong-un and are ordered by the CIA to assassinate him. When only previews were shown of this film however, North Korea launched a cyber attack on Sony Pictures, leaking over 100 TB of data in the process. This data included information on its past and present employees, internal emails and entire films that Sony had planned to release in the coming months. When North Korea, under the guise of the “Guardians of Peace”, threatened terrorist actions on theaters nationwide, several chains opted out of screening the film, ultimately resulting in Sony cancelling both the premiere and theatrical release of The Interview. In response to this, some theater outlets planned to show Team America: World Police, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, but unfortunately Paramount Pictures, who originally released Team America in October, 2004, nixed those plans. This inspired us at Trophy Unlocked to finally watch and review Team America: World Police to take a stand against censorship. This is a movie that I had planned to see at some point anyway, which I couldn’t do at first due to my age when it first released, but the recent events regarding The Interview offered a golden opportunity to finally do so. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.

Gary Johnston (Trey Parker) is a skilled Broadway actor who has just made his debut with the musical Lease. After his show ends, he exits into the alleyway and is approached by Spottswoode (Daran Norris), who manages to convince Gary to enter his limousine to offer him a job opening. As the two of them talk, Gary is taken to Mount Rushmore, the home base of Team America, a team of skilled professionals who police the entire world. After meeting the rest of the team, Gary is told that he was chosen for his college majors in Theater and World Languages, which qualifies him to become the ultimate spy. When he finally joins, he is sent with Team America into Cairo, Egypt to foil a terrorist plot which promises to be “9/11 times a hundred.” Unbeknownst to the team however, Kim Jong-il (Trey Parker) is using the terrorists to support a much larger plan which will throw the entire world into chaos.

Team America (left to right): Joe Smith (Trey Parker), Gary Johnston (Trey Parker),
Chris (Matt Stone), Lisa Jones (Kristen Miller), Sarah Wong (Masasa)

The story of Team America is actually pretty good as it takes every action movie cliché it can and lampoons it in a way that fits in line with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s style of humor. Gary is fleshed out pretty well as the audience comes to understand the sort of person he is through his ups and downs and the other members of Team America are given enough background to know who they are. However, a couple of them are pretty underdeveloped beyond clichés, though this was likely intentional, and Gary’s reason for not initially joining Team America ends up being so tragic that it’s funny. Also notable are the portrayals of several celebrities, especially those in the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.). The members of F.A.G., which includes Alec Baldwin (Maurice LaMarche) and George Clooney (Matt Stone) among others, wish for world peace and dislike the approach of Team America, who they see as a reckless group that causes more damage than the terrorists they fight. Kim Jong-il’s portrayal also ends up being one of the funniest in the movie, as the filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of him. Equally funny is when countries apart from America are depicted, with stereotypes that are applied to outlandish degrees and distance always given in relation to America.

While I did find the film to be very funny, there are a couple scenes which made me turn away, one of which was an extensive shot of Gary vomiting and the other being a sex scene between Gary and Lisa Jones (Kristen Miller). Both seemed a little unnecessary, since the former went into the realm of gross-out humor that I don’t enjoy anyway and the latter I understand was only in there to distract the censors from the rest of the film’s content.

As for pacing, I have to commend Team America for moving at a pretty comfortable pace. It moves by pretty quickly, faster than one would expect, yet still hits the notes that it needs to when it needs to in order to move along without wasting much time. The message that the film ultimately gives, that while violence isn’t always the answer, it sometimes is, is also executed well and feels pretty important. America being the world’s police isn’t a new concept, but the way this movie handles it is interesting anyway.

The voice acting is pretty good in that it provides most of the humor. Trey Parker and Matt Stone give some of the best work in the film while supporting talent from the likes of Maurice LaMarche and Daran Norris only add to the pool of talent at hand. I also found the score by Harry Gregson-Williams to be pretty good, though the original music is great as well, with hilarious songs such as “I’m So Ronery” and “America (F*** Yeah)” standing the test of time.

I also have to give props to the puppetry and sets. The sets are very detailed, with little things that help sell the stereotypical nature of certain countries and showing off the talent of the designers. Add to that a scene where Gary visits actual American monuments and you have great comedy to boot. The puppets are pretty cheap-looking, you can even see the strings, but the puppeteers did an excellent job with the purposefully terrible movements as well as the scenes that actually show off more of their real capabilities.

The sets in Team America can be elaborately detailed.

Lastly, I want to address the references this movie makes. Team America makes fun of Pearl Harbor, Michael Bay, the Iraq War, Kim Jong-il and many other targets. However, most of these references are firmly rooted in 2004, the year in which this film was released. As a result, watching Team America can be like looking into a time capsule of 2004, so viewing it with a lens of that time frame may help with understanding some of the humor on display. Thankfully, it is also possible to watch Team America for some of its other elements, though I can’t help but wonder if this movie will be less funny to audiences years down the line; I suppose only time will tell for that.

Though not the greatest movie, Team America: World Police is still very good. The plot is clichéd while managing to be fresh and moves along at a great pace, although a couple scenes could’ve been cut without really missing much. Both the music and voice acting are great and the puppetry at work is commendable. Most importantly, the political satire is excellent and is very much in line with what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have expressed through South Park. In fact, the movie feels a bit like South Park with puppets at times. If you’re looking for a comedy that has mostly stood the test of time, watch Team America. However, children definitely shouldn’t be watching this despite the use of puppets and those seeking a smarter comedy should look elsewhere.

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