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Movie Review

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were inspired to make Team America: World Police using marionettes by 1960s TV shows such as Thunderbirds. They set their satiric sights on Jerry Bruckheimer-type blow-up-everything-in-sight movies (one song mocks the movie Pearl Harbor) and fatuous Hollywood types who think celebrity automatically confers wisdom. Good targets, surely, but they deserved to be skewered with the rapier wit of a Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll. Parker and Stone settled for a sledgehammer.

As the marionette world reels from terrorist attacks, only one force can save mankind from chaos—Team America, a supersecret organization whose headquarters are secreted within Mount Rushmore. The team consists of the older mentor, Spottswoode; the corn-fed all-American hero, Joe; the shoot-first-ask-questions-later hotshot, Chris; Lisa, a psychic whose empathic skills allow her to discern only the blazingly obvious; and Sarah, the hypercompetent female who is still mourning the loss of her fiancé on a previous mission.

The team is able to foil a plot in Paris, but they destroy the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre in the process. Team America must find a way to infiltrate the terrorist organization to prevent further mayhem. How to do it?

Spottswoode, the team’s leader, sets out to find the perfect man for the dangerous job. Is he a young Special Forces adrenaline junkie? A cold war-era superspy? No, he's Gary Johnston, a very talented ... actor. Joining the elite team, Gary is made up to impersonate an Arab terrorist, but he chokes on his first mission, and the archeological treasures of Egypt bite the dust as yet another another mission goes awry.

Finally, the team figures out that the mastermind behind all world terrorism is none other than North Korea’s "Kim Jong Il," portrayed here as a petulant man-child with too much time on his hands. As Team America formulates a plan to infiltrate Kim’s headquarters, they run into a further complication: a group of naïve Hollywood celebrities, led by actor "Alec Baldwin," is on its way to North Korea for a peace conference.

Will Gary be able to use his acting skills to bring down the North Korean puppet master? Can Alec Baldwin out-act him? Will any more famous landmarks fall victim to Team America's incompetence?

Positive Elements


Spiritual Content

One team member is allegedly psychic. When someone asks what will happen if a terrorist plot succeeds, he’s told, “Basically, all the worst parts of the Bible.”

Sexual Content

This movie is perverse in the extreme. An extended scene of puppet sex features explicit sexual sounds, motions and positions. Viewers are assaulted throughout the film by harsh and obscene slang for sexual and excretory organs, and jokes about oral and anal sex. The act isn't shown, but much is made of Gary "servicing" Spottswoode. Wanting to punish himself for blowing a mission, Gary proposes drilling holes in his penis.

The theme song of the movie’s Broadway musical, Lease (a send-up of the Tony Award-winning Rent), is “Everyone Has AIDS.” A billboard features a scantily clad (non-puppet) bikini model.

Violent Content

Never mind that all the characters are puppets. We still see bloody bullet holes appear in bodies, heads blown off and bodies cut in half. A terrorist is mowed down by a Hummer. The Panama Canal gets blown up, and we see dead “people” floating in the aftermath. Errant missiles—i.e., every missile Team America fires—blow up architectural, artistic and archeological treasures.

“Michael Moore” destroys the Team America headquarters as a suicide bomber, and large blobs of real fat are seen dripping from the ruins. “Hans Blix” is dumped into a shark tank à la James Bond, except there’s no escape for Hans. We see real sharks dismember his body; in a later scene, we see his skeleton floating in the water, still clutching his briefcase.

“Tim Robbins,” a peace activist, is set on fire. Two other peace activists are set upon by “panthers” (black housecats in reality); the filmmakers apparently stuffed the puppets with meat of some sort, because we see the cats ripping away at the bloody, dismembered bodies. Various jets and rocket aircraft are shot down or blown out of the sky, crashing in flames.

Crude or Profane Language

As would be expected from a movie written by the guys who made South Park, Team America is perforated with profanities and obscenities. I gave up counting f-words halfway through the movie; the final tally has to be in the 100s. (Even the Team America theme song uses the f-word.) Ribald scatological terms abound. And the s-word and tons of milder crudities join in to lend their particular voices to what becomes something of a vulgar symphony. God's and Jesus’ names are abused repeatedly.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Spottswoode always has a lit cigarette in his hand. One scene is set in a bar, where Gary drowns his sorrows. He leaves a half-drunk beer on the bar and staggers out into the alley ...

Other Negative Elements

... Whereupon he vomits—not once, not twice, but three times, followed by violent projectile vomiting. The scene ends with him unconscious in a huge pool of vomit.

The Hollywood peace activists belong to the “Film Actors Guild,” which allows the filmmakers to put F.A.G. after their names every time they appear. The film mocks Koreans’ difficulty pronouncing the letter “L,” giving Kim Jong Il dialogue that frequently uses that letter and having him sing “I’m So Ronery (Lonely).”


Trailers for Team America began with the tagline, “George Clooney, Janeane Garofalo, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Kim Jong Il ... will all HATE this movie!” Naturally, the filmmakers did not have the permission of any of these celebrities and politicians to use their names or images. (Bush and Kerry do not appear onscreen.) To sue them, however, would only play into their hands, and the plaintiffs would probably lose anyway, as courts have repeatedly ruled that satire, no matter how wicked, is protected by the First Amendment.

This devil-may-care attitude is symptomatic of Parker and Stone’s style. And they ran so far with it this time that their film originally received an NC-17 rating. Supposedly they made cuts to get it down to an R, but there's so much foul content remaining that it’s hard to tell where. Regarding the edited sex scene, the ever-irreverent Parker tweaked the MPAA by saying, “I think it’s a beautiful scene about lovemaking. Apparently, the MPAA can’t handle that much love.” Trust me, “love” had nothing to do with that scene—even after it was reduced.

Content issues don't bother very many film critics, though, and most give Team America rave reviews. Anything so irreverent that skewers so many sacred cows is bound to be popular with reviewers. "A post-9/11 gutbuster," gushed one. "A delightfully vicious film," penned another. Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, said that such a movie is needed in “an era when boat-rocking is deemed unpatriotic. Boy, do we need it now.”

But this movie has much less to do with rocking boats than it has to do with insulting as many people as possible, and such ham-handed satire gives legitimate satire a bad name. Team America could have been a very funny movie, but Parker and Stone have no respect for anything or anyone. Thus, without sharply honed reasoning skills or any obvious understanding of concepts such as honor and courage, the only tool they have left is a bludgeon. And being bludgeoned is never funny.

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Objectionable Content

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Plot Summary

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voices of Trey Parker as Gary Johnston/Joe/Hans Blix/Kim Jong Il and others; Matt Stone as Chris and others; Kristen Miller as Lisa; Masasa as Sarah; Daran Norris as Spottswoode; Maurice LaMarche as Alec Baldwin


Trey Parker ( )


Paramount Pictures



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Tom Neven

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