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F@#k Yeah
By Shawn Stone

Team America: World Police
Directed by Trey Parker

It generally goes against company policy to review a film that has been in release as long as this one has, but it’s a way slow movie week, and, frankly, it’s embarrassing that a film as good as Team America: World Police hasn’t been written about in these pages already.

It’s the perfect post-election entertainment, too. Conservatives and liberals alike can laugh at each other—and themselves—in this sexually explicit, hyperviolent war-on-terror comedy with puppets. Maybe, just maybe, potty-mouthed South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created something to bring us all together.

Or not. The film hasn’t exactly been doing boffo box office, proving, again, that when comedy hits to close to home, us Americans are pretty humorless.

The film, made entirely with puppets, is about a crack team of American terrorist-hunters called, obviously, Team America. They kill terrorists with great efficiency, but, in the process, often destroy cities and kill innocent bystanders; in the opening sequence, they level Paris. They also have no clue as to why this might piss off the locals.

On the other hand, they are opposed by wishy-washy liberals jabbering on about peace, personified by Alec Baldwin and the rest of the left-leaning dupes in the Famous Actors Guild, or F.A.G. (“Heh-heh, Butthead,” one can imagine Beavis muttering, “they said FAG.”)

Meanwhile, numerous Jihadists, working in tandem with North Korean fruitcake- dictator Kim Jong Il, plot the destruction of Life As We Know It.

If Team America has a message, it’s this: Right-wing militarists are “dicks,” mealy-mouthed peaceniks are “pussies,” and terrorists are “assholes.” I shit you not—it’s that simpleminded. But the simplemindedness works perfectly in what a colleague has accurately described as, essentially, a “Jerry Bruckheimer film with puppets.” Every emotional cliché of a Bruckheimer flick like Armageddon or Pearl Harbor is exploited for laughs. They even insult the latter film by name in the song “Pearl Harbor.”

According to various news reports, Parker and Stone pissed and moaned about the difficulties of working with puppets throughout Team America’s production. The result, however, is the most visually satisfying work they’ve ever done. (Let’s face it: while the TV show That’s My Bush was a smart parody of sitcoms both visually and structurally, their live-action films mostly sucked and South Park looks like ass.) They know exactly when to make the most of the puppets’ strengths and weaknesses, and they register as both sublime and ridiculous in turn. A couple of shots—Kim Jong Il and the blonde puppet in the theater’s royal box, for example—are beautiful. The opening shot of a marionette in front of a cheap backdrop, which the camera reveals to be a puppet-within-the-puppet trick, is (God help them) witty. Of course, they balance this with one of the longest, most disgusting vomit scenes ever filmed. And, let’s not forget about all the hot puppet sex. (Rock on, dudes.)

Maybe the greatest glory of Team America is the songs, which are better-written, funnier and more satirically dead-on than anything any comedy group or Broadway composer is writing today. These guys could really write a hit musical—if they gave a crap, that is. Village Voice critic J. Hoberman amusingly postulated that Parker and Stone make so many “fag” jokes because they’re closet show-tunes queens; appropriately, their Rent parody, “Everyone Has AIDS,” is worth the price of admission.

Alas, whatever the material’s brilliance, it’s consistently offensive enough to make sure they haven’t a chance in hell of another Oscar nomination. The theme song for the team is the ingeniously, stupidly anthemic “America F@#k Yeah,” and that’s only the beginning. They nail the weepy patriotic-country genre (“Freedom Isn’t Free”), idiotic power ballads (“Only a Woman Now”), the conventions of the action-flick genre itself (“Montage,” as in “you’re gonna need a montage” at some point to show the passage of time) and the diva-styled lament (the ethnic-slurring “Ronery,” as in lonely, sung by Kim Jong Il). If you can’t force yourself to watch a puppet film, you should at least consider buying the soundtrack.

Even if the film does come down on the side of Bush the Younger and the doctrine of pre-emptive war, wounding my own liberal sensitivities, Parker and Stone have made the most clever film to explicitly take on current events. And in these dark days, that’s something.

Make Up Your Mind Already

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Directed by Beeban Kidron

A singleton no more, Bridget Jones returns to the screen with another, unacknowledged, condition: Sequelitis. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason picks up four weeks after her Diary left off, giving us more of the same only blander, beginning with mortifying live-TV footage of Bridge’s arse as she gamely hosts an infotainment segment on sky-diving. Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is now a serious journalist; at least in her own mind, and to her incredulity, she’s entering Week Six of blissful coupledom with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), human-rights lawyer and hunk of her heart. But being the social fumbler that she is, Bridget can’t get the hang of stuffy legal functions, and besides, the way her hoped-for-future-husband folds his knickers drives her crazy. And then there’s Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), a leggy young colleague angling for Mark’s attention and sending Bridget’s insecurities into overdrive.

The Edge is anything but edgy; aside from some well-placed cuss words, the sequel is cuter, dumber, and less tartly British than the original (sadly, there aren’t any sight gags involving those “Trustafarian” girls). And Bridget in love is simply not as much fun as Bridget on the loose, no matter how much she lusts after her stuffy boyfriend. And that’s the film’s other problem: Now that prim-and-proper Mark is fore and center, we realize that he’s a bit of a bore (despite Firth’s deft chagrin), especially compared to witty and debonair womanizer Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant, confirming that Daniel is his most potent creation). Daniel gets, and deserves, all the best lines, but this time, he’s playing second fiddle. Now the host of a Maxim-style travel show, he arranges for Bridget to accompany him to Thailand. (If not for Bridget’s company, he confesses on the plane, he’d be forced to plunge himself into Mrs. Dalloway.) But his real reason for bringing her along is so he can seduce her and thus cuckold the upper-crusty Darcy once again. No such luck, however: In Thailand, Bridget succumbs to the lame plot rather than Daniel’s devilishly overheated attention.

This Bridget isn’t so much about getting inside the loopy head of our amusingly blunt heroine as it is to affirm, with saccharine optimism—and at the expense of all the other characters, especially Jim Broadbent as her hapless father—that she is utterly lovable just the way she is, “wiggly bits” and bad hair days included. The film needn’t have tried so hard—Zellweger meets that challenge with her droll delivery and heedless physical comedy. To further antagonize those fans who were dismayed at how the actress plumped up from slender to curvaceous for the original, Zellweger is unequivocally hefty here, and her wobbly comportment in Bridget’s tacky wardrobe is the film’s most consistent comic thread. Not that that’s saying much. Bridget may indeed be lovable but her material is in definite need of a self-improvement regime.

—Ann Morrow

Yuck

Seed of Chucky
Directed by Don Mancini

There will always be an honored place in the horror film pantheon for Child’s Play and the film’s little red-headed doll, Chucky. Playing on the fear of dolls coming alive, á la the famous Twilight Zone episode (“My name is Talking Tina and I’m going to kill you”), the 1988 flick was funny and scary in the Nightmare on Elm Street manner so popular then. It neatly balanced gore, yuks and a lot of nonsensical voodoo hoodoo to make for diverting entertainment. In the film’s most famous scene, the heroine grabs the doll and threatens to throw it in the fire if it doesn’t talk. Chucky then utters the immortal reply: “You stupid bitch. You filthy slut. I’ll teach you to fuck with me!”

Alas, in the seemingly endless series of sequels that have followed in the intervening 16 years, Chucky’s voice, the fine actor Brad Dourif, hasn’t been given anything as remotely witty to say.

The newest installment is more of the same. Seed of Chucky is a disgusting, stupid mess with a couple of good ideas and a couple more decent jokes. (The comic talents of Jennifer Tilly, for example, are totally wasted.) If I told you what the good bits were, you might get the idea that the film is better than it is; trust me, it isn’t.

All credit for wrecking the franchise goes to writer-director Don Mancini. Mancini, who originally created Chucky, owns the franchise and has fully succeeded in running it into the ground. (Note to Mr. Mancini: Make up your mind as to whether a disembowlment is supposed to be funny or gross; the one in Seed of Chucky is neither.) I don’t know what original Child’s Play director Tom Holland is doing now, but Chucky needs him. Badly.

—Shawn Stone


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