Team America: World Police is a 2004 American satirical action comedy film written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady and directed by Parker, all of whom are also known for the popular animated television series South Park. The film is a satire of big-budget action films and their associated clichés and stereotypes, with particular humorous emphasis on the global implications of the politics of the United States. The film's title is derived from domestic and international political criticisms that the foreign policy of the United States frequently and unilaterally tries to "police the world." The film features a cast composed of marionettes. Team America focuses on a fictional team of political paramilitary policemen known as "Team America: World Police," who attempt to save the world from a violent terrorist plot led by Kim Jong-il.
The use of marionettes instead of actors in an action film is a reference to Thunderbirds, a popular 1960s British television show, although Stone and Parker were not fans of that show. The duo worked on the script with former South Park writer Pam Brady for nearly two years. The film had a troubled time in production, with various problems regarding the marionettes, as well as the scheduling extremes of having the film come out in time. In addition, the filmmakers fought with the Motion Picture Association of America, who returned the film over nine times with an NC-17 rating. The film was recut by a few seconds and rated R.
The film was released in the United States on October 15, 2004 and received generally positive reviews. Team America grossed over $50 million worldwide. The film was released on DVD in the United States on May 17, 2005, available in both R-rated and unrated versions.
Team America: World Police, a paramilitary anti-terrorism force, has a home base located inside Mount Rushmore. The team comprises Lisa, a psychologist; Carson, her love interest; Sarah, an alleged psychic; Joe, a jock who is in love with Sarah; and Chris, a martial arts expert who harbors a deep mistrust of actors. The team is led by Spottswoode and a supercomputer named I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. The team finds a group of terrorists in Paris, France. During a gun battle, the team inadvertently destroys the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre. Carson proposes to Lisa, but a surviving terrorist guns him down. As a replacement, Spottswoode recruits Gary Johnston, a Broadway actor with college majors in Theater and World Languages. Unbeknownst to the team, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is supplying international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.
Using his acting skills, Gary successfully infiltrates a terrorist group in Cairo, Egypt. The team attempts to capture the terrorists. The terrorists plot is foiled, but the city is now in ruins. The team is criticized by the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.), a union of liberal Hollywood actors lead by Gary's favorite actor, Alec Baldwin, and also consists of Matt Damon, Liv Tyler, Samuel L. Jackson, Janeane Garofalo, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Hawke, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, and Tim Robbins. As the team relaxes following their victory, Gary tells Lisa about his childhood: his acting talent caused his brother to be killed by gorillas. The two express their feelings and have sex, but a group of terrorists blow up the Panama Canal.
The Film Actors Guild blames Team America. Gary, realizing that his acting talents have once again resulted in tragedy, abandons the team. The original members depart for Derkaderkastan, but are captured by terrorists including the North Korean government. Filmmaker Michael Moore vengefully infiltrates the team's Mount Rushmore base and suicide bombs the area. Gary is depressed and becomes an alcoholic, only to be reminded of his responsibility by a speech from a drunken drifter. In North Korea, Kim Jong-il hosts a peace ceremony, inviting the Film Actors Guild and all the world's political leaders. Kim Jong-il plans to detonate a series of bombs throughout the world, reducing every nation to a Third World country. Gary returns to Mount Rushmore and finds the area in ruins, although Spottswoode and I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E have survived.
After regaining Spottswoode's trust by performing oral sex on him and undergoing a one-day training course, Gary is sent to North Korea where he uses his acting skills to free the team. There is a violent battle with the Film Actors Guild, in which most of the actors are brutally killed. Chris finally confesses to Gary that he mistrusts actors because when he was 19 years old, he was raped by the cast of the musical Cats. The team then confront Kim Jong-il. Gary goes on stage and convinces the world's leaders to unite by using the drifter's emotional speech. Kim Jong-il kills Alec Baldwin with a submachine gun, and is then is kicked over a blacony by Lisa. He is impaled on a Pickelhaube and is revealed to be an alien cockroach from the planet Gyron. The cockroach departs in a miniature spaceship, promising to return. As Gary and Lisa begin a relationship, the team reunites, preparing to combat all the world's remaining terrorists.
- Trey Parker as Gary Johnston / Joe / Carson / Kim Jong-il / Hans Blix / Drunk in Bar
- Matt Stone as Chris
- Kristen Miller as Lisa
- Masasa Moyo as Sarah
- Daran Norris as Spottswoode
- Phil Hendrie as I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. / Chechen terrorist
- Alec Baldwin as Himself (cameo)
- Chelsea Marguerite as French mother
- Jeremy Shada as Jean Francois
- Samuel L. Jackson as Himself
- Scott Land, Tony Urbano, and Greg Ballora as Puppeteers
The film also features a man dressed as a giant statue of Kim Il-sung, two live cats, two nurse sharks, and a cockroach, with the difference in size with the marionettes played for humorous effect.
After the "hassle" of producing their last film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Parker and Stone vowed never to create another film. The film's earliest origins involve Parker and Stone watching Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds on television while bored. When the duo saw the series, they recalled seeing it on television but were not fans. Parker found that the series was unable to hold his interest as a child because "the dialogue was so expository and slow, and it took itself really seriously." The duo inquired about the rights to the series and found Universal Studios was doing a Thunderbirds film directed by Jonathan Frakes. "We said, 'What? Jonathan Frakes is directing puppets?' and then we found out it was a live-action version, and we were disappointed," said Parker.
The two then read in the trades that The Day After Tomorrow had been sold to Fox due to a one line pitch regarding global warming, which Parker and Stone found hilarious and "insane." Parker recalled Stone running up to him during work at South Park holding the paper, who sat down and read the synopsis regarding "sudden global warming attacking the earth." The two were in tears from laughing. The two got a copy of the script, and soon realized that "The Day After Tomorrow" was the greatest puppet script ever written. Originally intending to do a shot-for-shot puppet parody of The Day After Tomorrow, Parker and Stone were advised by their lawyers that there could be possible legal repercussions. The spoof would have been called The Day After the Day After Tomorrow, and been released a day later than The Day After Tomorrow. News broke of the duo signing on to create the film on October 17, 2002, with Stone revealing that it would be a homage to Anderson. The news was confirmed in June 2003, with Variety quoting Stone as saying "What we wanted was to do a send-up of these super important huge action movies that Jerry Bruckheimer makes."
When the duo pitched Team America to Paramount Pictures, the studio believed the film would not be a financial success. The two pitched the film to their producer Scott Rudin first, who immediately "got" and understood the project, and eventually convinced Paramount to give the project the green light. Studio executives were initially unenthusiastic about the project, but were won over when they saw the dailies being shown. The studio was in favor of the film's lack of political correctness, but were confused by the use of puppets. The executives explained that they could not make profit from an R-rated puppet feature, and Parker countered that they had said the same thing regarding an R-rated musical (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) but they did. Parker, Stone, and longtime writing partner Pam Brady spent nearly two years perfecting the Team America script. For influences, they studied scores of popular action and disaster films, such as Alien, Top Gun, and S.W.A.T. The duo watched Pearl Harbor to get the nuances of the puppets just right when they were staring at each other, and also used Ben Affleck as a model. To help shape the film's archetypal heroes (from the true believer to the reluctant hero to the guy who sells out his friends for greater glory), they read the books of Joseph Campbell. "On one level, it's a big send-up," Brady said. "But on another, it's about foreign policy." The first draft of the script was turned in well before the Iraq War. The film takes aim at various celebrities, many of whom came out in opposition to the Iraq War in 2003. Brady explained that the film's treatment of celebrities was derived from her annoyance at the screen time given to celebrities in the beginning of the Iraq War, in lieu of foreign policy experts.
The film's central concept was easier to conceive than to execute. Team America was produced using a crew of about 200 people, which sometimes required four people at a time to manipulate a marionette. The duo were forced to constantly rewrite the film during production due to the limited nature of the puppets. The 270 puppet characters were created by the Chiodo Brothers, who previously designed puppets for films such as Elf and Dinosaur. The costumers of the crew were responsible for making sure the over 1,000 costumes remained in cohesive order and were realistic. Production began on May 23, 2004. The project was interrupted multiple times early on in production. As soon as filming began, Parker and Stone labored to find the right comic tone; the original script for the film contained many more jokes. After shooting the very first scene, the two realized the jokes were not working, and that the humor instead came from the marionettes. "Puppets doing jokes is not funny," Stone found. "But when you see puppets doing melodrama, spitting up blood and talking about how they were raped as children, that's funny." The film was filmed by three units shooting different parts of the film at the same time. At times, the producers would have up to five cameras set up to capture the scene filmed.
The film was mainly based on the 1982 cult classic action film Megaforce, of which Parker and Stone had been fans. Many ideas had been copied such as the flying motorcycle sequence. The film was painstakingly made realistic, which led to various shots being re-done throughout the process due to Parker and Stone's obsession with detail and craftsmanship. For example, a tiny Team America-scale Uzi cost $1,000 to construct, and Kim Jong-il's eyeglasses were made with hand-ground prescription lenses. Although the filmmakers hired three dozen top-notch marionette operators, simple performances from the marionettes was nearly impossible, with a simple shot such as a character drinking taking a half-day to complete successfully. Both Parker and Stone agreed during production of Team America that it was "the hardest thing [they'd] ever done." Rather than rely on computer-generated special effects added in post-production, the filmmakers vied to capture every stunt live on film. Parker likened each shot to a complicated math problem.
Even before the scene's submission to the Motion Picture Association of America, Parker planned to "have fun" pushing the limits by throwing in the graphic sex scene. The duo knew the racy film would be met with some opposition, but were outraged when the film came back with their harshest rating, NC-17. The original cut's minute and a half sex scene with Gary and Lisa was cut down to 50 seconds. The original scene also featured the two puppets urinating and defecating on one another. The entire joke was based on what children do humorously with dolls such as Ken and Barbie. At least nine edits of the puppet love scene were shown to the MPAA before the board accepted that it had been toned down enough to qualify for an R rating. Parker contrasted the MPAA's reluctance for the sex scene to their acceptance of the violence: "Meanwhile, we're taking other puppets and, you know, blowing their heads off, they're covered with blood and stuff, and the MPAA didn't have a word to say about that." In addition to the sex scene, the MPAA were also upset with a puppet being eaten alive by sharks. The duo faced a similar conflict with their previous film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, in 1999.
The late September 2004 deadline for the film's completion took a toll on both filmmakers, as did various difficulties in working with Stone, who described the film as "the worst time of [my] life," resorting to coffee to work 20-hour days, and sleeping pills and coffee to go to bed. The film was barely completed in time for its October 15 release date. At a press junket in Los Angeles on October 5, journalists were only shown a 20-minute reel of highlights because there was no finished print. Many of the film's producers, besides Parker and Stone, had not even seen the entire film with the sound mix until the premiere.
Reviews of the film are generally positive; it holds a 77% ("Fresh") at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, out of 192 reviews with the consensus "Team America will either offend you or leave you in stitches. It'll probably do both." The film also holds a rating of 64/100 at Metacritic ("generally favorable reviews"), based on reviews by 38 critics.
Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson was supposed to have met Parker before production, but they cancelled the meeting, acknowledging he would not like the film's expletives. Anderson felt "there are good, fun parts [in the film] but the language wasn't to my liking."
National Review Online has named the film #24 in its list of "The Best Conservative Movies". Brian C. Anderson wrote, "the film's utter disgust with air-headed, left-wing celebrity activism remains unmatched in popular culture." However, political and social commentator Andrew Sullivan considers the film brilliant in its skewering of both the left and right's approach on terrorism. Sullivan (a fan of Stone and Parker's other work, as well) popularized the term "South Park Republican" to describe himself and other like-minded fiscal conservatives/social libertarians. Parker himself is a registered Libertarian.
The film suffered oppositional criticism prior to release. In August, Internet news aggregator Matt Drudge blasted Paramount and the filmmakers for trying to "mock the terror war." A week later, the conservative group Move America Forward criticized the film, saying it was "inconceivable" that filmmakers would have spoofed the Nazis during World War II. Before the film was released, statements were released by a "senior Bush administration official" condemning the film. Upon receiving the news, the duo called and found it was instead a "junior staffer," causing Stone to quip "What is it – junior or senior? What are we talking about here? Who knows? It might have been the janitor." The two eventually decided it was free publicity, with which they were fine. Some media outlets interpreted the film's release on October 15 to be in theaters before the November elections. In reality, the release date had nothing to do with the elections; in fact, the film was intended to be released earlier, but production fell behind.
Team America made $12.1 million in its opening U.S. weekend. The film eventually grossed a total of $50,907,422, with $32,786,074 in U.S. domestic receipts and $18,121,348 in international proceeds.