One of the great advantages of satire comes from a paradox: The more absurd satire gets, the easier its job of telling the truth becomes. Jonathan Swift knew it when he created a plan for eating Irish babies, and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone know it, too. To choose one example, they once captured the insanity of celebrity worship with a South Park episode in which a fourth-grader's bad Señor Wences impersonation battles Jennifer Lopez for the spotlight, as well as for Ben Affleck's affections. To choose another, they made Team America: World Police, a puppet-filled action-film send-up that also serves as a scarily accurate barometer of the current political climate.
Heavily inspired by Gerry Anderson's '60s "Supermarionation" programs (Thunderbirds, Supercar, et al), Team America creates a world where strings dangle from the sky and explosions occur with alarming frequency. Keeping order of a sort is Team America, a crack unit of star-spangled-jumpsuit-clad superpatriots unafraid to drop into any situation to root out terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, no matter what the cost. In the opening scene, they save Paris from WMD-toting baddies, taking out the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe, and the Louvre in the process. The team's oft-repeated theme song: "America: Fuck Yeah."
Shortly after the film opens, Team America must replace a fallen member. Turning naturally to Broadway, they recruit a young actor named Gary (voiced, like half the characters, by Parker), star of the hit musical LEASE and an expert in world languages. After reluctantly traveling to Team America's Mount Rushmore headquarters, he joins them in a struggle against a lonely, tuneful Kim Jong Il and the bleeding-heart members of the Film Actors Guild, led by Alec Baldwin.
Parker (who directed the film) and Stone (who co-produced and co-wrote it with Parker and longtime South Park contributor Pam Brady) have worn their success well. South Park gets sharper with each successive season, and with Team America, they continue its mission of not caring who they piss off: Only the film's doves look more ridiculous than its hawks, and the film ends with an obscene, ridiculous, and not entirely insincere defense of American interventionism.
How do they get away with it? Genuinely engaging the issues helps: Years from now, Team America will better convey the political character of 2004 than a stack of Time magazines. Staying funny helps even more. Whether deploying a well-timed puke gag, parodying the Darryl Worley school of tragedy-exploiting country music, exploring puppet sex (in a scene trimmed to obtain an R rating), or employing their dizzying command of film clichés, Parker and Stone rarely seem satisfied until they've squeezed the most possible laughs out of a given moment. Puppets seem to suit them as well as cartoon kids. When at a loss for what to do, Team America simply focuses on its cast's graceless attempts to fight, embrace, or walk through doorways. Those moments let the illusion of humanity slip away, but other moments don't let us off so easily.