Anyone who saw "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" knows that Trey Parker and Matt Stone revel in milking every ounce out of an "R" rating, as well as bludgeoning jokes into the ground. It's no surprise, then, that "Team America: World Police" goes the extra mile to piss off everybody, literally and figuratively.

Anyone who saw “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” knows that Trey Parker and Matt Stone revel in milking every ounce out of an “R” rating, as well as bludgeoning jokes into the ground. It’s no surprise, then, that “Team America: World Police” goes the extra mile to piss off everybody — which includes gleefully destroying renowned Hollywood liberals, literally and figuratively. All told, the clever visual bits and hilarious songs don’t entirely compensate for the many flat or beyond-over-the-top spells. Still, in an election season ripe for parody, pic could offer a tonic to youthful cynics unlikely to gag on its pungency.

The MPAA has certainly done its part to help market the film: The tussle to avoid an “NC-17″ rating for sex involving genitalia-free puppets generated plenty of publicity. The truth is it’s hard to imagine the debated scene being much more acrobatic than it is, but that won’t prevent the unrated DVD from being a hot commodity.

Always fond of toppling sacred cows, Parker and Stone score big points for the sheer audacity of tackling the war on terror using two-foot-tall puppets that resemble the marionettes on “Thunderbirds” — and they manage to spoof the conventions of Bruckheimer-produced action yarns in the process.

Still, the challenge of mixing political satire with being as lewd and crude as possible represents a balancing act that the duo has never fully mastered. In “South Park,” they create enough genuinely funny moments to obscure (especially for a core audience that appreciates immaturity) creative deficiencies and a commitment to excess that’s more apparent here.

“Team America” certainly opens well, as the elite terrorism-fighting unit housed in Mt. Rushmore goes after a gang of bad guys in Paris, destroying global landmarks with an appalling lack of concern. The face-off includes a riotous martial arts fight where the puppets (whose strings are always visible) bounce around a lot but never really strike each other.

With one of their number lost in that operation, the group recruits an actor named Gary (currently starring in “Lease: The Musical”) to infiltrate the terrorist organization. At the same time, however, this move unsettles relationships on the team.

Meanwhile, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (like Gary voiced by Parker, in a manner that won’t win many friends among Asian-American groups) plots his own diabolical scheme. His quest for global domination hinges on manipulating the Film Actors Guild (an acronym that’s funny, maybe, the first three times, but not the next three dozen) to lobby for peace, with Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins and Martin Sheen among those not-so-gently lampooned.

Clearly, Parker and Stone (who wrote the script with Pam Brady, another “South Park” producer) have soaked in the action genre, yet much of their parody hews so closely to the real thing that the pic goes relatively long stretches without laughs.

Periodically, the songs come to the rescue. As in the “South Park” feature, the songs deliver the movie’s biggest highlights. Atop the song list sits the stirring, embarrassingly catchy anthem “America, F**k Yeah,” which repeats in much the way the theme of the old “He-Man” animated series was trotted out each time the protagonist underwent his superheroic metamorphosis.

Inasmuch as they occasionally speak through “South Park’s” Cartman character, whose memorable phrases include “Democrats piss me off,” it shouldn’t come as a shock that the left fares a bit worse than the right here, though a climactic speech skewers both. And while seeing Michael Moore obliterated doubtless will amuse more than just the filmmaker’s harshest detractors, it’s reasonable to ask how many stars (or marionette imitations of them) have to be torn asunder before the audience gets the point.

At a more fundamental level, “Team America” is a true technical achievement, recreating a dizzying array of sets and costumes at one-third scale and clearly having plenty of fun doing so — down to using housecats as stand-ins for terrifying panthers.

In a sense, Parker and Stone’s latest foray unwittingly provides the perfect metaphor for their work: While there are moments to like, they invariably come with strings attached.

Team America: World Police

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Scott Rudin/Matt Stone production. Produced by Rudin, Trey Parker, Stone. Executive producers, Scott Aversano, Anne Garefino. Co-producers, Michael Polaire, Frank Agnone. Directed by Trey Parker. Screenplay, Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Bill Pope; editor, Thomas M. Vogt; music, Harry Gregson-Williams; original songs, George Drakoulias; production designer, Jim Dultz; supervising art director, Ramsey Avery; art directors, Tom Valentine, John Berger; set decorator, Richard C. Walker; costume designer, Karen Patch; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Walter Anderson, Walter Hoylman; supervising sound editor, Bruce Howell; visual consultant, David Rockwell; lead puppeteers, Scott Land, Tony Urbano, Gregory B. Ballora; puppet producer, Edward Chiodo; puppet supervisor, Stephen Chiodo; puppet art director, Charles Chiodo; puppet designer, Norman Tempia; special effects supervisor, Joseph Viskocil; visual effects supervisor, Eric Pascarelli; assistant director, Eric Jewett; second unit director, Stone. Reviewed at Paramount Studios, Los Angeles, Oct. 8, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Voices:
Gary, Joe, Kim Jong Il, Hans Blix - Trey Parker Chris - Matt Stone Lisa - Kristen Miller Sarah - Masasa Spottswoode - Daran Norris I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. - Phil Hendrie Alec Baldwin - Maurice LaMarche
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