This is it. South Park's extremo super-satirists Trey Parker and Matt Stone have finally gone for the big one: skewering the US war on terror - - with puppets! The promise is all in the title and at the blast-off, Team America doesn't renege. The jingoistic battle-anthem blares (""America! Fuck, yeah!""), the slo-mo violence splatters and Team America's gung-ho marionettes nail action-movie cliché to post-9/11 politics with scary pertinence. It's Bruckheimer meets Bush. It's dead on target. Blasting their way through jihad-crazy Arabs, our wibbly-wobbly freedom fighters incidentally blow up the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Hey, it's a small price to pay for, er, saving them. With Matrix DoP Bill Pope lensing the ingenious carnage, be prepared to see puppets (voiced largely by Parker and Stone) swear, fight, puke and fuck to the max. This is Parker and Stone's humour at its best - - a combustible cocktail of icky gross-out, puerile slapstick, subtle in-jokeand razor satire.
The surprise comes when Team starts torching liberals even more violently than starch-collared conservatives. Suicide bomber Michael Moore boulders up with a hot dog in each fist and the movie rapidly shifts aim to tear into the Hollywood celeb-crusaders of Alec Baldwin's Film Actors Guild (arf, arf!). But when you're lobbing apples in both directions, it's hard to shoot straight. And despite boiling geopolitics down to a hilarious life-lesson about "dicks, pussies and assholes", Team America's foggy focus means that, once the gunsmoke clears, it's saying very little. Inspired scenes - - `giant' cats attacking the puppets; power-ballad training (`You need a montage...') - still emerge from a lot of obvious gagging, but incisive irony gradually fades into throwaway crudity.
Interesting to note that with Kim Jong Il stepping in for Bush/al-Qaeda, no US politicians appear. Nor, indeed, does anyone who could hurt the movie. So did they bottle it? Are they confused? Nihilistic? Parker and Stone might be the puppetmasters, but they blow their chance to show who really pulls the strings.
Team America lock'n'loads some of the funniest - and smartest - scenes of the year, but finally leaves us dangling like its unstrung heroes.