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'Team America': Sex, Puppets & Controversy

'Team America'Documentary DVDs

'South Park' Makers: Sex, Puppets and Controversy

Try to imagine, if you will, a movie that in its first few minutes offends just about everyone who's watching it.

Then you have "Team America: World Police," the new outrageous and controversial new comedy from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of "South Park."

Even as we speak, several prominent Hollywood actors may be calling their lawyers to check on slander laws. GLAAD is certainly drafting a press release condemning the film, and North Korean madman Kim Jong II may have a case as well.

I saw this film over the weekend, quite by accident, although it is not nearly ready yet to be seen. And believe it or not, "Team America" opens next Friday.

I'm told that at this weekend's press junket in Los Angeles, writers were shown only a 20-minute reel of highlights because there was no finished print.

"Team America," as you may know, is performed by marionettes à la the great British animated puppeteer Gerry Anderson's TV shows of the early '60s, such as "Thunderbirds," "Supercar" and "Fireball XL5."

In those shows, benign puppets dressed as space men or scientists bounced along merrily with their strings showing. It was part of the appeal, and the shows are still popular on DVD. I have a personal affection for "Supercar."

Parker and Stone have taken this concept — I don't know if they had to license it from Anderson — and gone one better.

Instead of making a live-action movie like the latest version of "Thunderbirds," which was a box-office failure this summer, they devised their own plot and characters.

What if they made a Jerry Bruckheimer-like action movie that was really a spoof, with lots of explosions, coarse, vulgar language and enough offbeat sexual situations to rile the MPAA?

This is a movie so rough that should, by some strange happenstance, its theme song be nominated for an Oscar — as "Blame Canada" was from the "South Park" movie — there is no way it could actually be performed at the Academy Awards.

In some respects, it's hard to believe that Paramount Pictures — home in the last decade of "Forest Gump" and "The Hours" — is releasing this film. You have to give producer Scott Rudin credit; he's a brave man.

"Team America" is certainly destined to be a cult classic, but it may have a rocky road getting to that status. Watching the movie means being slack-jawed for its 90-minute running time.

When I saw it over the weekend, the only other person in the screening room kept looking around to make sure a.) I was all right and b.) that we were really seeing what we were seeing.

The plot: In short, a CIA-type organization hires a Broadway musical actor to pretend to be an Arab terrorist and infiltrate terrorist organizations. (In the end, the world is safe, the movie claims, thanks to brilliant acting. Ouch.)

"Team America," you see, boldly goes where no one has gone before, sending up post-9/11 terrorism, Arabs, Koreans, the CIA and liberal-minded Hollywood actors all at the same time.

The one group that seems to escape total comic annihilation is the current presidential candidates. And that's just as well.

Still, in the first few minutes, we get Gary, our Broadway star, performing a song called "Everyone Has AIDS" in a musical named "Lease." (That's a parody of "Rent," wink wink.)

When you realize the refrain is "Everyone has AIDS, white folks and also spades," you see the direction we're headed in.

Before long, Gary is recruited by the CIA to join Team America, a sort of "Mission: Impossible" squad designed to thwart terrorists. Gary (who would be played by Keanu Reeves if he weren't a puppet) falls for the female leader of Team America, a saucy blonde.

The two puppets have a wild sex scene set, in the version I saw, to Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" — the love theme of Bruckheimer's "Armageddon" — in which full androgynous plastic nudity is unbound. But so are the lovemakers' positions. It's an astounding use of inanimate objects.

Scene after scene, "Team America" goes over the top. Whether it's language or just simple suggestion of vulgar acts, "Team America" never hesitates to outdo its preceding scene.

I can't repeat all the words to the theme song that spoofs patriotism, "America [Expletive], Yeah!," but you get the gist of it. Needless to say, teenage boys will be enthralled by the endless graphic references to oral sex and the scatological.

But Parker and Stone have also added another element: a team of Hollywood actors who descend on Korea (I think) for a misguided peace conference. The group of air-headed puppets, led by Alec Baldwin, is dubbed the Film Actors Guild (and referred to by its unfortunate acronym).

Among Baldwin's liberal associates are usual suspects Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Danny Glover, Janeane Garofalo, George Clooney, Ethan Hawke, Matt Damon and a few who seem like they were thrown in for no reason: Helen Hunt, Samuel L. Jackson and Liv Tyler.

I am told that none of these actors gave permission for their likenesses to be used. Most will not be amused by their depictions.

Baldwin, in particular, comes in for a lot of baiting, as he is often referred to facetiously as "the greatest actor in the world." Luckily, the real Alec has a sense of humor. Hopefully, Sarandon won't mind when she gets her head blown off.

But not just movie stars come in for skewering. The Parker/Stone version of Kim Jong II nearly overtakes the film as the terrorist-hunting switches from the Arab world to Korea. Sort of a Dr. Evil meets Elmer Fudd, this Kim Jong II is easily the film's funniest creation, simply because he is so unlikable in real life.

The movie version is more Looney Tunes than "Fritz the Cat" and that's where "Team America" really succeeds. It also helps that David Rockwell's puppet-sized sets, particularly the Korean palace, are spectacular creations full of surprises and witty sideshows.

There's more and there's Moore in "Team America," including a Michael Moore puppet, a stretch DeLorean, a hollowed-out Mount Rushmore used as the Team America lair, and, of course, more irreverent songs, including one devoted to Bruckheimer director Michael Bay and his godawful blockbuster "Pearl Harbor."

Paris, most of Egypt and plenty of other landmarks are blown up, all so Team America can, as their credo goes, "put the F back in freedom."

'War Room,' 'Fahrenheit' Share DVD Release

Today is the day: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is out on DVD.

This was always the plan: to have the DVD in stores a month before the presidential election. It's already ranked at No. 2 on Amazon.com, which means there's a huge pent-up demand.

I stick by what I said when this editorial documentary was first released: It's a film that voters in all political parties should see, whether they think Moore is the Antichrist or walks on water.

A good deal of the movie is based on Craig Unger's excellent book, "House of Bush, House of Saud." And quite a lot of that book is borne out in Barbara Bush's own memoirs, which this column wrote about earlier this summer.

I say the same thing about "Fahrenheit 9/11" that I said about "The Passion of the Christ:" See it before you comment on it. When a movie is this controversial, you must make up your own mind.

On the flip side, today also marks the DVD release of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus's Oscar-nominated 1993 documentary, "The War Room."

This is the movie that made stars of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they spearheaded Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The movie was a favorite of mine for six years before I met the Pennebakers (they're a married couple) and made my own documentary with them.

I watched this film again a few weeks ago, before John Kerry brought Carville and a bunch of Clinton people in to save his campaign. It's amazing how well it's held up. But it also shows why Kerry needed that help. This is one DVD political aficionados cannot live without.

By the way, the Pennebakers, along with Albert Maysles, are busy shooting rock stars this week in the "Vote for Change" shows. The result of their work will turn up on the Sundance Channel on Monday night during the live five-hour broadcast from Washington D.C.

You know the stars' names, but you cannot imagine what some of them have put these esteemed filmmakers through. Yikes! Some of them really believe their own press.

So far high marks go mostly to Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M. I won't say yet who's been bad, but I am told it's been pretty interesting.