U.S. Release Date: October 15, 2004
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Trey Parker
Writer: Pam Brady, Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Producer: Scott Aversano (executive), Scott Rudin (executive)
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (graphic, crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language all involving puppets)

Puppet Masters of the Universe
by C.A. Wolski

Bad boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone are at it again; this time with marionettes. The duo responsible for the foul-mouthed brats of South Park have cranked their sacred cow grinder to high speed with Team America-World Police in which they puree every taboo subject they can get their hands on, from AIDS to peace activism to the war on terrorism. In the process, they have delivered one of the best satires in a long, dry season.

Reminiscent of the 1960s TV show Thunderbirds, Team America concerns the exploits of a group of gung-ho American super-commandos who wage an unrelenting war against terrorists in their search for WMDs. Guided by a sense of patriotism and the boozy hand of their leader Spottswoode (voiced by Daran Norris), the team swoops down wherever a terrorist is located by the group's computer I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. (Phil Hendrie) and dispatches the bad guys in bloody melees that do more damage than any WMD possibly could.

Joining the group of seasoned professionals is Gary (director Trey Parker), an actor whose skills are crucial to Team America's ability to wage war on the terrorists. But it turns out that the terrorists are really just pawns in a larger plot by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (Trey Parker, again), who has a nefarious plan to turn the entire world into a third world slum.

Like their marionette heroes, Parker and Stone take no prisoners in their pursuit of satire. The opening sequence, which finds the team dispatching terrorists in Paris, sets the tone for the entire picture, with the simple-minded heroes saving the French capital while at the same time destroying it—a not too subtle jab at the war on terror.

And while Kim Jong Il is the ostensible bad guy, the movie has much more fun lampooning activist celebrities—particularly Alec Baldwin (who was, along with his animated brothers, blown up in South Park: Longer and Uncut)—who sound off ignorantly about every subject under the sun. The final sequence, which has the team squaring off against an array of stars from Sean Penn to Tim Robbins makes the over-the-top violence of Kill Bill: Volume One look tame. There is almost a pornographic glee in the loving way each act of violence is depicted, echoing the Jerry Bruckheimer source material that served as inspiration for the flick.

The movie also offers up a heady dose of sex—with the puppets, lacking obvious genitalia, demonstrating an imaginative and acrobatic array of techniques in the attenuated scenes that originally earned the movie an NC-17 rating. Though crude, the sex scenes are among the comic highlights—adding an almost surreal, absurdist, yet graphic quality that makes them ridiculous and laughable. A later sexual encounter may put some viewers off (and is not intended for viewers under 17), but it is so goofy that it can only elicit laughs, not gasps of disbelief. And the only way to believe puppet sex is to see it.

Like South Park, the movie also has musical numbers, which again display Parker and Stone's brilliant comic writing skills. Among them are "Everyone Has AIDS" (from a fictional musical starring hero Gary) and Kim Jong Il's balladic lament "I'm So Ronry." The best piece of musical writing however is the Team America Anthem, "America, F—k Yeah," which is played at the beginning of each mission.

The design is retro futuristic with the team wearing flashy uniforms that lack any subtlety, and a terrific base located inside of Mount Rushmore. Kim Jong Il's fortress North Korea is creepy cool, in the tradition of the James Bond supervillain. Though taking place in a puppet-dominated universe, there are moments when the fourth wall is broken and the puppets enter our world, notably during a montage taking place in Washington, D.C., and later when Gary is driving his motorcycle on a human-sized road. There's nothing significant about either scene. They're just weird.

Which is what can be said, more-or-less about the entire movie. It's just plain and wonderfully weird. Jokes fall flat, puppets are creepy, the language gets to be a bit much, but, in the end, the movie is one hell of a fun ride—f—- yeah.

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