"This movie dumps on everybody," Matt Stone has told the press about Team America: World Police, the musical-comedy parody that employs puppets in both the war on terror and the war against the war on terror. Along with his "South Park" cohort Trey Parker, Stone has devoted his entire show-biz career to dumping on everybody, and there isn't that much in Team America that hasn't already been dumped on by Cartman and gang. But the use of marionettes provides a whole new set of toys to play with. And the focus on an American anti-terrorist force that's as likely to blow up the Eiffel Tower as to foil a jihadist plot brings a fresh-off-the-headlines immediacy.
Less fresh is the idea of parodying a Jerry Bruckheimer movie - Top Gun, Bad Boys, The Rock, take your pick. Bruckheimer has devoted his entire show-biz career to the high-octane, high-testosterone action films that have grabbed Hollywood by the balls in recent years, and Team America draws a parallel between our kick-ass entertainment and our kick-ass foreign policy. But like a certain president whose name doesn't even come up, Stone and Parker may have chosen the wrong target in their effort to make the world safe for mockery. Movie conventions just don't seem all that important compared to, say, the Geneva Conventions - not right now, anyway.
Not that Team America doesn't have a lot of fun with those movie conventions - having our "heroes" hole up in a Bond-villain lair behind Mount Rushmore, for instance. The sets, dreamed up by visionary architect David Rockwell, are pop masterpieces. And the puppetry, though deliberately crude, can be hilariously effective, like during the sex scene, which puts the "wood" back in "woody." But the movie itself isn't as effective as it might have been, perhaps because it refuses to take a stand. It goes after limousine liberals as well as right-wing dictators - Alec Baldwin and Kim Jong Il - and the best you can say for Stone and Parker is that they're equal-opportunity offenders.
Not terribly funny ones, this time out.