A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 491 – Team America: World Police

placeholderTeam America: World Police – July 4th, 2011

Last year we decided to go the obvious route for US Independence Day but we did briefly discuss watching this movie instead. But we looked at our enormous list and figured hey, we’ll probably hit the holiday again the next year! And so we did and thus today’s movie is a thoroughly ridiculous satire on patriotism, politics, acting and the militaristic attitudes many people associate with the United States. Done with marionettes. By the South Park guys. Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

I’ll be honest: I’m really not in the mood for this movie today. I’m not sure what specifically made me want to turn it off when in the past I’ve quite enjoyed it. Maybe it was that I was totally wiped out yesterday (I blame the heat – give me winter back, please) or maybe it was that we’d already watched a movie earlier in the day (Lucky Number Slevin, which we’d wanted to show my mother) or maybe it was just that this is a movie you have to be in the right mood for. And if you’re not in the right mood for it then watching it won’t put you in the mood for it. It’ll just irritate the crap out of you. Because that really is much of the point of the movie anyhow: Humor through jackassery. And puppets.

The whole idea of the movie is that it’s an over-the-top action flick a la Michael Bay. Full of explosions and disasters and dramatic tension where you don’t know if the heroic soldiers are going to be able to stop the evil terrorists. There’s more drama from the romance that occurs between the two leads and is then, of course, broken up when one of the leads panics and leaves his team in the lurch, only to storm in when things are desperate. And of course he saves the day! Every plot point is hackneyed. The lines are overwritten and the characters are cliches. Our hero, Gary, is a Broadway actor who joins Team America: World Police because they need an actor to be their newest spy (since spying is pretty much acting with surveillance equipment apparently). Team America’s base is in Mount Rushmore and they’ve got a tough-as-nails-but-dressed-in-a-suit boss, a supercomputer and a mission to stop terrorists whatever the cost. And through the course of the movie they end up going after Kim Jong Il and drawing the ire of the Film Actors Guild.

Now, regardless of my mood, there are some things I enjoy about this movie and they tend to be things that were either so spot on in their parody/satire elements that they’ve become part of our personal lexicon or they have to do with the movie’s visual conceit. I love the montage song. I think of it any time there’s a training montage in a movie because it is spot on. It’s a montage with a song about how you need a montage. I also like America, Fuck Yeah as bit of satire, same for Freedom Isn’t Free. Over-the-top jingoism in the news will always get an “America! Fuck yeah!” from myself or Andy. And let’s face it: “Freedom isn’t free” or variations thereof pop up all the time, which usually means one or the other of us will mutter “No, it costs a buck 05.” Panthers played by housecats? Yeah, I’m down with that too. As with everything that reminds the viewer that the entire cast of the movie is made of marionettes and they’re on a much smaller scale than people. Not HO scale, certainly, but small. There’s a statue in Kim Jong Il’s palace that’s actually a man in heavy makeup. There are the “panthers” and a variety of little props that you’re likely to see in the Look-a-Like books (which I love). And it’s that sort of winking cleverness that makes the whole marionette conceit play. That and that it’s not treated seriously at all.

I really do like the marionette idea. It’s thoroughly laughable. And it’s not that they’re bad marionettes! They’re obviously incredibly sophisticated things, with servos in the faces and whatnot. But they will always look like marionettes. Always. There is no mistaking that look when you make them walk, and at no point are they at all disguised. There’s no attempt to disguise them. They’re the point. They’re the humor. You try to play out a serious scene between a couple of characters, then smack their faces together to approximate a kiss and it will be funny. Every time someone references the expression on their face? Funny, because they have no expressions. And the main character is supposed to be an actor who can convince anyone of anything through his amazing acting skills. And he has the same blank look and jerky movements that every other marionette in the movie has.

What made this movie frustrating to watch tonight was knowing that I’ve enjoyed it before. That I’ve snickered at the lampooning of actors taking up political causes as if they’re experts in foreign policy. That I’ve laughed at many of the songs and many of the lines and all the marionette work while still being impressed at the sheer scale of the puppetry being performed. Tonight it just fell flat. I still laughed at the cats and the montage, sure. But the rest of the satire just didn’t feel as sharp as it was supposed to. And add to that a couple of scenes I just plain don’t like? And as a whole it just wasn’t fun to watch.

I find the racial and cultural elements of the movie to be questionable at best. I get where they’re going here, and the intent of the humor is more to poke fun at US audiences and how the media portrays other cultures than to poke fun at those cultures themselves. That being said, it’s a very dangerous line to toe. It requires that your audience be in on the joke and be able to laugh at themselves, which one would hope anyone watching this movie could do, but I can’t count on it. I’ve met too many people who could laugh at Team America themselves while still thinking that the depictions of other races were hilarious because haha, those people in the Middle East who speak gibberish! So funny! And making fun of speech impediments is a riot, right? I get it, I just don’t find it as funny as it’s supposed to be. And then there’s the sex scene and the vomit scene. Yeah, you know what? I could do without them. They’re beyond parody or satire and are just gross-out humor and I’m sure plenty of people find them hilarious but they’re not my sort of humor. I honestly think they take away from the satire and parody aspects of the movie, which makes the rest of the humor less sharp.

All in all, I can still see a lot of things I enjoy about this movie. The very concept of it is amusing and the marionettes were a fantastic way to take what might have come off as simply a cheesy parody and elevate it to satire. That being said, it does have a lot of weaknesses, not the least of which is a tendency to aim for offensiveness in hopes of hitting satire and managing to hit the slim border between them. If I’d been in the mood to watch it perhaps I could have looked past that to enjoy when they do hit the satire target dead center. But I wasn’t, so while I’ll still be amused by the montage and I know how much freedom costs in USD, I don’t think I’ll be putting this back in for a while.

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July 4, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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