Actor Gary (Parker) is recruited to replace a killed-in-action member of Team America, an anti-terrorist force. He soon finds himself facing his personal idol, Maurice LaMarche (Alec Baldwin), whose coalition of anti-war Hollywoodites is unwittingly carrying out the evil schemes of North Korean dictator Kim-Jong Il (Parker again).
The Thunderbirds' live-action adaptation missed the point so dispiritingly that there's a sense of justice served as South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone use Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation methods with wit, affection and a surprising degree of background subtlety in this mock action movie-cum-political cartoon. That's matched, though, by plenty of upfront piss-everybody-off blatancy.
The main target is the Bruckheimer-Simpson style of big action blockbuster with covert gay content. There's a whole song about how the hero misses the heroine "as much as Michael Bay missed the mark with Pearl Harbor", and the back stories everyone gives to explain their prejudices are spot-on - like the T.A. member who's hated actors ever since he was raped by the touring cast of Cats.
It opens with a demonstration of Bush II-era foreign policy, as the elite, patriotic Team America (theme tune: America, Fuck Yeah!) take out would-be bombers in Paris, incidentally destroying the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. Working out of a base hidden in Mount Rushmore, T.A. flies off to trouble spots, while dealing with its own soap operatic tangle about who "has feelings" for who - which results in the hilarious puppet sex scene that caused a US ratings fuss. After a while, the film leaves off bashing the hawks to go on a tear about Hollywood liberals - with "socialist weasel" Michael Moore depicted as a gross suicide bomber.
Despite good spot gags, Team America falters when it goes over old material: the treatment of the North Korean dictator isn't as sharp as that of Saddam in the South Park movie. The attacks on celebs flounder, in that too many targets (Janeane Garofalo? Helen Hunt?) are hauled on and blasted too quickly for satiric personalities to be established. And the South Park claim that all voices are impersonated "...poorly" rebounds, as some of the caricatures need to be labelled in order to be recognised - and still aren't especially amusing. It makes for a patchy comedy that's stronger as a genre-mocker than a political satire. But you have to love the use of unthreatening pussycats as "deadly panthers" to menace the miniature heroes...
Though there's a lot to like, Team America lacks the sweetness that diluted earlier Parker-Stone projects, while its nihilism about world politics is sometimes hard to take.