The plot seems like a collision at the screenplay factory between several half-baked world-in-crisis movies.
Um, well, I'm guessing that would be because they are parodying half-baked world-in-crisis movies, rather than making the film a serious exploration of geopolitics.
When first seen, Gary (voice by Parker) is starring in the musical "Lease," and singing "Everyone has AIDS." Ho, ho.
I guess Ebert hasn't seen Rent, then? I laughed at the idea of a Broadway-musical "Everyone has AIDS" song, because I recognized that they were making fun of Rent, even before I read this and found out the musical in this movie is actually called "Lease". The only reason I can think of that you wouldn't think this was funny would be to object to it as a laugh at the expense of people with AIDS, rather than a laugh at the expense of Broadway musicals (and Rent in particular). Well, that or, you know, just having a poorly-developed sense of humor, but since I know Ebert finds at least some funny movies to be funny, that doesn't seem possible.
He also suggests that the puppets are creepy-looking. Obviously, this is because he has never seen the original "Thunderbirds" TV series (in his review of the recent live-action movie version, he said "I had never heard of the series and, let's face it, neither have you."). They're very much like the "Thunderbirds" puppets in appearance and articulation. I rather doubt that's an accident.
If I were asked to extract a political position from the movie, I'd be baffled. It is neither for nor against the war on terrorism, just dedicated to ridiculing those who wage it and those who oppose it.
Well, I think both sides tend to be pretty ridiculous, myself, so I guess I would appreciate this more than Ebert. I think that "both sides are ridiculous" is a perfectly consistent political position. Heck, I even think Libertarians are pretty ridiculous sometimes, and I am one.
But perhaps the problem here is not that the movie doesn't convey a political position, but that the political position it conveys isn't simplistic, and can't be reduced to "for or against the war on terrorism". In other words, that the film's political position is neither of the two that Ebert recognizes (although, come to think of it, who's "against the war on terrorism"? I know of plenty of people who are against the war in Iraq, but that's not exactly the same thing. Or at least, those who are against it don't think it is, which is the main reason they are against it).
The White House gets a free pass, since the movie seems to think Team America makes its own policies without political direction.
I suspect that's parodying another characteristic of "half-baked world in crisis movies", since those often have groups (Mission: Impossible) operating without any apparent input from the president, and when there is a president in them (Independence Day), they're always deliberately vague about the political persuasion of said president. The movies they're parodying are resolutely apolitical, even when the politics involved in what they're doing would seem to be unavoidable, because they don't want to alienate half of their potential audience by identifying either side with either the Good Guys or the Bad Guys in the movie.
I wasn't offended by the movie's content so much as by its nihilism. At a time when the world is in crisis and the country faces an important election, the response of Parker, Stone and company is to sneer at both sides -- indeed, at anyone who takes the current world situation seriously. They may be right that some of us are puppets, but they're wrong that all of us are fools, and dead wrong that it doesn't matter.
You know, people felt much the same way about Duck Soup when it first played in theaters, just after WWI. That it was inappropriate to use war as a subject for humor. Now it's considered one of the greatest comedies in the history of cinema. But basically, Ebert's objection seems to be the same: It is inappropriate to be making jokes about this subject.
Because Ebert never directly addresses whether the film is funny, he only says that it is offensive. It's interesting, actually, to look at Ebert's own "Great Movies" write-up on Duck Soup, where he says things like "There is a kind of admiration for material that dares something against the rules and yet is obvious, irresistibly, funny." He apparently doesn't find TA:WP irresistibly funny, and I wonder whether that is because he doesn't find transgressive humor funny unless it is sufficiently far removed from present experience that it is no longer quite so transgressive, or whether it is due to its poking fun at his own political beliefs.
Given his recent history of rating politically-motivated films, I can't help wondering whether Ebert:
1) Would have found the film funnier, and given it 3 or 4 stars if it had ridiculed only the current administration, and left the anti-war crowd unscathed.
2) Would have found the film more offensive, and given it 0 stars if it had ridiculed only the anti-war side, and left the hawks unscathed.