Friday, October 15, 2004

Team America: World Police

I haven't seen it yet (we're probably going this weekend), but I have read Roger Ebert's review. Apparently he didn't like it much - he gave it one star.
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.


Chameleon said...

Of course Ebert's comment to the effect that nobody has ever heard of Thunderbirds the original series is about as US-centric as you are ever likely to get - millions of British and others in the English-speaking world were brought up on it - indeed the only reason I would ever envisage going to see Team America is precisely BECAUSE it employs the Thunderbirds idiom so effectively as a vehicle of parody (at first glance at any rate, having only clapped eyes on the web site trailer so far, the actual film not having reached these shores yet). A further irony being that the scions of the Tracey family had American accents foisted upon them for reasons of saleability in the US, only Lady Penelope retaining crystal-decanter purity If a reviewer's appreciation of a film (no matter how eminent/respected the reviewer might be) is limited to those, which reflect a perceived standard of political correctness and ignores the artistic merit then establishment censorship has achieved a degree of muzzling even dictatorships would look upon with envy. In retaliatory mode (and with tongue resolutely in cheek): who the bloody hell is Ebert anyway - give me Barry Norman or Jonathan Ross any day!

Chameleon said...

P.S. I forgot to mention that International Rescue was always portrayed as a non-political organisation (for the obvious reason that the target audience was children).

Salvius said...

"millions of British and others in the English-speaking world were brought up on it"

Well, yes. Even I remember watching it as a lad growing up in Wisconsin. I think TechTV (or G4TechTV, since the merge) is still showing it even now.

Heck, I've even seen the parody of it that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did on their show, "Not Only... But Also" (which was one of the funniest things I think I've ever seen, and reminds me of my one possible complaint about Team America: World Police, at least as a "Thunderbirds" parody: Kim Jong-Il, since he's the villain, really ought to have ridiculously enormous eyebrows...) :-)

Chameleon said...

Indeed - I agree, bushier than Dennis Healey's for comic effect (politician and favourite target of impressionists precisely because of that memorable characteristic). I also enjoyed your analysis of Ebert's review far more than I would have enjoyed the original by the way :))

Joseph said...

I don't think Ebert deserves all the space you gave him since he has somehow become the de facto "court critic" in our culture. I saw the movie and agree that it is more a sendup of Bruckheimer/Bay action bombasts than a political satire. And while it had some hilarious moments (the songs were particularly amusing) I found that the toilet humor wears a little thin after a while . . . guess I like my comedy a little more idiosyncratic and a little less puerile. Just don’t call me “high brow” . . .

Kwik2Jujj said...

Having been seated to Joseph's immediate left for the film, I can testify that his brow was more "furrowed" than "high" for the unbelievably protracted puppet-vomit scene, as well as the puppet-porn scene. But the movie's humor ran the gamut from movie references to sight gags to clever satire and on down to gross-out fare, and once I get hooked I'll pretty much laugh at all of it. Be sure to stay through the very end of the credits so you can hear Kim Jong Il sing, "You are useless, Alec Baldwin," a song which does not appear anywhere else in the movie.