Here’s the pitch: “A bad action movie—with puppets!” Here’s the result: a bad action movie with puppets. Team America, ostensibly a superhero supergroup, destroys a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage sites in order to save them. This irritates the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.), the members of which, led by Alec Baldwin, organize world leaders against Team America and for peace. But this plays right into the hands of Kim Jong Il, who plots to destroy the world while its dignitaries are enjoying a stage show starring the likes of Janeane Garofalo and Sean Penn. (Which raises the question, “When’s the last time anyone enjoyed Janeane Garofalo or Sean Penn?”) The only one who can save the world is Gary, a Broadway actor whose juvenile thespianism indirectly got his brother eaten by gorillas. Can Gary conquer his fears and stop the madman?
Trey Parker and Matt Stone deliver a note-perfect rendition of American action clichés, from the flags spattered all over Team America’s G.I.-Joe-style vehicles to the members’ homophobic homoeroticism. The problem is, they get so invested in imitation that they forget the mockery. They seem to think the clichés will be funny because they’re acted out by puppets, which is like saying Friends was funny because they had a chimp. Passing for humor are gross-out set pieces that punctuate long stretches of conventional action. When Lisa poops on Gary during their mid-movie humpathon, the camera zeroes in on stringy brown turds that squirt from a plastic butt and fall onto Gary’s grinning, open-eyed face. This basically rips off the joke from South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, but this time around the set-up is too blunt to be funny.
Matt and Trey have been treading comedic water for a while now. Ever since That’s My Bush!, they’ve shown more interest in aping Hollywood crap than they have in parodying it. They’ve also gotten into the lazy habit of assuming that F-bombs are funny just because fourth graders drop them. When I was in fourth grade, my classmates and I said “fuck” on a daily basis. We weren’t trying to be funny; that was just how we talked. The creators of South Park have forgotten that. From producing some of the most hilarious stuff I’ve ever seen, they’ve come all the way to being lazy schlockmeisters whose obligatory nods toward their incendiary roots are both obnoxious and out-of-place. Make a Barbra Streisand movie, guys. At least that’ll be honest.