Roger L. Simon

Team America

Sheryl and I saw Team America last night with Charles Johnson and Dennis the Peasant. All of us loved the film. Before I get into my comments, it is interesting to see that shows only 80% fresh tomatoes (percentage of positive reviews) rating – good but not as good as the movie really is. The film hits too close to home for some of the establishment reviewers. Roger Ebert was offended and gave it only one star. The NYT’s A. O. Scott carefully takes the zing out of his “favorable” notice by saying “The movie is more satisfying as straight-ahead blow ’em up than as a satire.” Nonsense. The movie is pure, unrelenting Rabelaisian satire and those being ridiculed are people just like Scott, the self-satisfied purveyors of the Zabar’s Zeitgeist. As the recent behavior of Sean Penn indicates, it is very hard to laugh when you are the butt of the joke.

Also worth noting is that the movie is not opening that big – a four million six opening night behind Shark’s Tale, but with a slightly higher per screen average. (Per screens are watched as indicators of future business). Last night (Saturday) should be higher still, as always, with more true indication of the film’s
‘legs” available from the Sunday grosses. I wonder how successful this film is going to be. Judging by the sometimes strained laughter at the Sherman Oaks Pacific Galleria last night, it makes some people uncomfortable. I find that amusing because most people pride themselves on being hipsters hereabouts, but they have been out-hipped.

The good news, however, is that the first major studio release about the War on Terror is actually in favor of the war. Even though Team America accidentally destroys the Louvre and the Sphinx, among numerous other monuments of civilization, and seems to revel in or be oblivious to collateral damage of all sorts, you know they are doing the right thing in the end. Terrorists are seen as objects of derision, of course. But the true targets of the filmmakers’ venom are the narcissistic Hollywood actors who pretend to oppose the war but who are actually… I believe it was Glenn Reynolds who wrote this originally… on the other side – in this case case quite literally (a superbly portrayed Kim Jong Il). I don’t believe I will ever look at any of these actors again the same way. Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the South Park duo) have demolished their pretensions forever. These men are brilliant filmmakers. All “tech creds,” as they say in the business – puppets, sets, editing, etc. – are great. They know what they are doing on a level that make the objects of their satire, well, mere actors.

Are there moments that don’t work? I suppose (not to me really), but there are in Rabelais too. The great satirist must go full-bore with no brakes on his contempt. Let the chips fall where they may. In this one, by the way, perhaps the most telling vitriol is spilled on, of all organizations, the UN. I won’t spoil you the pleasure by telling you how. As for Michael Moore, as most of the world knows by now, he is properly dispensed with.

UPDATE: Interesting analysis by Russell Wardlow below. Click on his site Mean Mr. Mustard for more.

UPDATE: It is now clear from the over nights that Team America, funny as it, is not a box office smash. From the Box Office Guru: Trey Parker and Matt Stone returned to theaters with Team America: World Police, which shot up a somewhat disappointing $12.3M this weekend, according to estimates, for a per screen average was $4,844. The small 4% Friday-to-Saturday increase does not bode well for the future. Critical reviews were mixed and Yahoo! users gave the film a B grade. Back in 1999, the duo’s South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut opened with $11.3M on its way to a cume of $52M.