Like high school outcasts gatecrashing a party they plan to wreck, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always been mischief-makers par excellence. So unleashing Team America: World Police on the eve of November's US election kicked up a surely-intended media storm. The only real surprise came with how swiftly the storm passed...
Mixed reviews and average box office helped restore calm, but the real cooler was politics. Or, rather, a perceived lack of them. Friends, fans and even critics expecting an hour and a half of Bush-bashing were somewhat dismayed to see the likes of Alec Baldwin getting a kicking.
But, in hindsight, what did we expect from the most stubborn satirists of our time? Essentially contrary teenagers at heart, the South Park duo were never going to settle for a victim as straightforward as Dubya. Not when there were so many other easy targets to lampoon with their scattergun, inventive, in-your-face smarts.
On second viewing, Team America seems less a satire of "the war on terror" and more a collage of ridicule on everything worthy, pious, gloriously pompous or glamorously dumbass that America has to offer. And yes, that includes Jerry Bruckheimer movies. After all, as Parker and Stone are acutely aware, they live in a country where celebrities are so revered they're asked for their take on foreign policy. A nation where parts of the population couldn't name a foreign language, never mind speak one (and even the President appears to struggle with English). Where TV news stations and documentary makers have their own, splendidly subjective, versions of the truth happily consumed by partisans of each shade.
Ultimately, as with South Park, this is what Parker and Stone are riffing on: American stupidity and charm in all its flavours. And, as usual, they do it both brilliantly and affectionately.
Okay, so the film's main villain, Kim Jong-Il, is pretty much just Cartman fully grown. The "badly impersonated" voices are really, really badly impersonated. And some of the victims of Parker and Stone's playground bullying are (hey!) people we like. But judged as a comedy, more than enough laughs are delivered; as a satire, targets are hit with regular accuracy and as a musical, the soundtrack CD is already close to an essential purchase (fuck, yeah). Plus, as commentators on the surreal times we live in, Parker and Stone remain strangely noble, albeit childish, surveyors of the landscape.