Puppet Power; in 'Team America: World Police,' the 'South Park' Boys Tackle the War on Terror. These Are Serious Times. This Is Not a Serious Movie

Newsweek, September 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

Puppet Power; in 'Team America: World Police,' the 'South Park' Boys Tackle the War on Terror. These Are Serious Times. This Is Not a Serious Movie


Byline: Sean Smith

Here's a phrase you don't hear every day: explicit puppet sex. It's also something you may not see in "Team America: World Police." The first cut of the new movie from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone featured a scene of two naked marionettes getting very down and very dirty. Sadly, the Motion Picture Association of America, which doles out film ratings, doesn't give points for artistic vision. It slapped the film with an NC-17. For Parker and Stone to get an R, some or all of the scene will have to be cut. "I think it's a beautiful scene about lovemaking," Parker said last week as he prepared a shot of a drunk puppet vomiting on a bar. "Apparently, the MPAA can't handle that much love."

Forget the MPAA. How are the rest of us going to handle it when the movie opens on Oct. 15? Aside from being a $32 million musical-comedy parody of a Jerry Bruckheimer action movie starring a cast of 22-inch puppets, "Team America" is a cannonball plunge into the sociopolitical deep end. Team America is a five-person Special Forces unit devoted to battling global terrorism. Problem is, they're cocky, trigger-happy and culturally insensitive. While chasing turban-wearing, WMD-toting bad guys, for instance, TA topples the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in Paris and obliterates the Pyramids in Egypt. Meanwhile, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is planning a massive coordinated terrorist attack on the globe, so TA decides to recruit an actor named Gary to go undercover and discover the plan. But Gary has doubts. Liberals like Michael Moore and the (fictional) Film Actors Guild are outraged by Team America's tactics, claiming that TA is creating enemies of our allies and inciting more terrorism against the United States. Sound familiar?

"Team America is a metaphor for America," Parker says. "So obviously the movie is political, but it's about the emotional politics. Our main character is a guy who thinks, 'Everyone hates me because I'm part of Team America, and I don't know how to feel about that.' With all the bulls--t going on right now, it's a question we can all relate to: should I feel proud to be an American or not?" What may surprise many--and will surely shock the conservative groups already accusing the film of being anti-Bush or making light of the war on terror--is that Parker and Stone ultimately answer yes to that question, and pummel the left more than the right. The acronym for the bleeding-heart actors' guild is FAG, for instance, and Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, George Clooney and Tim Robbins all get blasted. "I'm sick of hearing actors talk about s--t they don't know about," Stone says. "And we've been on the 'bash Michael Moore' bandwagon for a long time." Other celebrities get skewered because, well, just because. Matt Damon's puppet turned out "kind of f---ed-up looking, so we made him retarded." In the film he can say only one thing: "Matt Damon."

Parker and Stone have built their careers by giving the finger to political correctness. No subject is taboo, and they gleefully satirize extremists of all stripes. Their hit TV show spawned the 1999 film "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," an R-rated cartoon that grossed $83 million worldwide, earned an Oscar nomination for best song and scored raves from critics. The guys' gift for submerging scathing social criticism in a swamp of potty humor--part Jonathan Swift, part Lenny Bruce--has made them adored by intellects and idiots alike.

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