NPR logo 'Team America: World Police'

'Team America: World Police'

French mother and child cower as terrorists attack! Paramount Pictures hide caption

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Team America cheers as Paris burns... Paramount Pictures hide caption

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Going out after the bad guys, but woefully unprepared? You need a montage! Paramount Pictures hide caption

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Kim Jong Il in a quiet moment at his North Korean palace/fortress. Paramount Pictures hide caption

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U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix gets thrown into Kim Jong Il's shark tank. Paramount Pictures hide caption

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The profane popularity of the animated South Park television series to some extent obscures how truly radical are the comic minds of the show's creators. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are corrosive and uncompromising social critics whose chief target is essentially the very idea of a cherished belief. They are, it seems plain, the inhabitants of a postmodern condition in which nothing is sacred because nothing means anything. This aesthetic finds its finest articulation in their most recent film collaboration, Team America: World Police, whose targets include a totalitarian dictator, a careless superpower... and Alec Baldwin.

Fittingly, the pair reserve their greatest contempt for that last target. "There's no lamer thing you can do than be an actor," says Stone flatly on one of the DVD featurettes on the DVD release of Team America: World Police. Much of what the filmmaking pair (both Stone and Parker wrote the screenplay, and Parker directs) say on the featurette is ironic and funny — sometimes very funny.

But Stone's not smiling when he makes his comment on acting — and the extravagant puppet mutilation that befalls the likes of Baldwin and fellow actors Tim Robbins and Helen Hunt in Team America: World Police underscores the point. Still, Stone's greatest satiric triumph on the subject of actor-bashing is creating an action movie starring nothing but puppets, and eliciting a pretty darn impressive set of performances out of the wood and fabric "actors."

The acid worldview of Team America: World Police has provoked a backlash, and the movie got mixed reviews when in theaters. But to hold such idiosyncrasies against Stone and Parker is to miss the big picture — Team America: World Police is actually an attack on action movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer.

As the many supporting features on the fabulous DVD release make clear, the film was written, lit, shot and yes, acted just like a standard American action movie, complete with wooden dialogue, preposterous plot points and bad guys with very poor aim. The only difference is that Team America: World Police is done entirely with marionette puppets. The fact that the result is in many ways beyond adequate — indeed, one could argue the puppets do a brilliant comic job of "acting" like real-life bad actors — is an indictment that encompasses not just those who create such films, but those of us who watch as well.

What's Included:

The DVD's large slate of featurettes (which, irritatingly, can't be watched in a continuous stream) lucidly detail what quickly becomes a mind-blowing production job. The puppet heads were controlled by computers, which turned out to be incredibly complex. Trey and Stone also had to take into account the dozens of marionette strings descending from above before blocking out the movements of their "actors," and then light the set to avoid shadows from the strings.

Once the puppets and sets were ready, the team had to then figure out how to accomplish lofty plot goals and action shots, which include firebombs, floods, plane crashes, a Broadway dance numbers — and of course, the longest and most elaborate puppet sex scene ever committed to film. These extras make for a compulsively watchable DVD.

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