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Team America: World Police: Uncensored and Unrated

It's not surprising that Trey Parker and Matt Stone ("South Park") would submit a movie to the MPAA and be threatened with an NC-17 rating. What makes Team America: World Police (2004) a bit unusual is that there are no actors in the film whatsoever — and when it finally was deemed appropriate for theatrical release, it was tagged "Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language – all involving puppets." Of course, by now fans of the movie know that it was the semi-infamous "puppet-sex" scene that earned TAWP its NC-17 cred, and while several versions reportedly were submitted for an 'R' rating, the theatrical version (which inevitably induced howls of laughter from audiences) was sufficiently raunchy that folks could only wonder: Just how could this get any dirtier? Well, thanks to the "Uncensored and Uncut" DVD, we can report with some assurance that the puppet-sex scene is dirtier. Crudely and inventively so. For once we have an "unrated" DVD that deserves its title, and while the curious are bound to rent the disc to see what the five seconds of fuss was all about, fans are certain to add it to their collections as a favorite movie to spin when they're looking for cheap, plentiful laughs.

With most of the voices provided by writer/director Parker and writer/producer Stone (two guys who admit, perhaps only half-jokingly, that they hate actors), Team America concerns the small, elite paramilitary outfit that puts a sizable boot to ass whenever freedom (or its synonym, America) is threatened. Nebraska native Joe is the moral center of the team, a man who's more comfortable in a moonlit cornfield than the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe, while martial-arts expert Chris seems to suspect or resent almost everything, especially outsiders. Meanwhile, pretty Lisa (Kristen Miller) is the team's psychological expert, while raven-haired Sarah (Masasa) is both a doctor and an empath. But when it appears weapons of mass destruction are about to change hands in Cairo, team leader Spottswoode (Daran Norris) decides his squad lacks undercover skill, and he recruits Broadway actor Gary to become the team's crucial fifth member. But before long, tensions mount. Joe falls for Lisa, but Lisa and Sarah realize they have competing feelings for Gary. And after the terrorists in Cairo are defeated, the Panama Canal is destroyed in retaliation. The Film Actors Guild launches a public campaign to discredit Team America. And behind it all is one inscrutable man — North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

*          *          *

Offering 90 minutes of consistent laughs, the running gag of Team America: World Police is the concept at its very core — as much as Parker & Stone delight at poking fun at jingoism, terrorism, dictatorships, celebrities, and Bruckheimer movies, every joke is a product of, or supported by, the fact that the "people" on screen are two-foot-tall marionettes, complete with jittery movements and visible strings. And while a post-911 "Thunderbirds" might be the product of any late-night dorm-room bull session (complete with consciousness-expanding substances), Parker & Stone prove, once again, that they are among the most clever, creative people working in Hollywood today — not once does this threadbare conceit grow tiresome, and the mere fact that the duo could deliver a feature-length puppet movie and a superb entertainment should win them some sort of Oscar outright. It may be tempting to dismiss Team America as a cinematic prank; however, the co-creators later admitted that they were surprised at just how difficult the shoot was (at points regretting the undertaking altogether). But the behind-the-scenes artisans leaped at what appeared to be a once-in-a-career opportunity, including cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix), who admitted he was "sick of shooting green-screen." The special effects may be small, but Team America is very much an Old Hollywood production, with virtually everything happening "in camera." In the midst of it all, Parker & Stone's anarchy finds high comedy in the lowest places. Non-fans of "South Park" won't like this offering either — the humor skewers hawks and doves by equal measures, but the writers can't resist moments of sheer, inspired juvenilia (a drunk scene is a laughing fit all to itself, while "cockfag," "buttfucking quitter," and "Mya-att Day-mun" achieve instant-catchphrase status.) And what's a Parker & Stone script without songs? "America: Fuck Yeah!" and "Freedom Isn't Free" are worth a sing-a-long, but the surprisingly heartfelt "I'm So Lonely" is reserved for the character who earns the film's greatest affection — like the movie itself, Kim Jong Il's touching soliloquy (voiced by Parker) was criminally overlooked by the Academy.

Paramount's DVD release of Team America: World Police: Uncensored and Unrated offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Trey Parker and Matt Stone did not record a commentary, but seven featurettes (without a "play all" option) form a nice behind-the-scenes documentary. Also on board are ten amusing deleted scenes, animated storyboards, initial screen tests, and trailers. Keep-case.

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