America: World Police
Bad Santa (2003) and Team America: World Police appearing at the same moment in Australian multiplexes added up to a terrific end-of-year season for subversive, off-colour humour.
Neither film has a hard-line political barrow to push, but both whip up histrionic silliness in the pursuit of lampooning sacred cows.
Team America is the latest brainchild of the South Park team, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Instead of animation or live-action, this time they use Thunderbirds-style marionettes – cueing approximately three hundred jokes about how inexpressive these dolls are, and how clumsy their movements look, and how absolutely no effort has been made to hide the puppeteers' strings.
Parker and Stone claim their inspiration from the post-September 11 furore in which America was sometimes accused of seeing itself as the "World Police" in the field of foreign policy. So they literalise this idea, beginning with an extremely amusing visit to a picture-postcard France.
The gung-ho members of Team America destroy several great national monuments in the course of killing some nasty, scheming Arabs, and then announce to the aghast local citizens: "Bonjour, people of France. Everything is bon!"
So much for the conservative faction of US politics. Then Parker and Stone turn their withering satire upon the celebrity spokespersons of the left – Hollywood stars such as Alec Baldwin, and (of course) Michael Moore. These ineffectual pansies inadvertently sow the seeds of global catastrophe as they spout their peacenik rhetoric.
Team America, like Anchorman (2004), quickly becomes repetitive. To vary the menu, the film plumbs ever more outrageous depths of bad-taste excess. Parker and Stone are much closer to the commercial genre of Farrelly brothers-style trash comedy than are the makers of Bad Santa, and so the gags swiftly orient themselves around the topics of gayness, fellatio, vomiting and defecation.
By the end, an early scene of unbridled heterosexual coupling between Team America comrades seems positively wholesome in retrospect.
This movie has aroused an unusual amount of animosity among the American culturati, even among some South Park fans. It has been asserted that the film is covertly an apology for the Bush administration, or a weak-willed cop-out.
From this distance, however, the anti-Americanism of the project is impeccable, and often bracingly hilarious.
© Adrian Martin November 2004