TA:WP is about an internationally-operating group of anti-terrorist commandos (made up of clean-cut, white American men and women) who protect the world from terror attacks using advanced weaponry and vehicles. When the film opens, it is a beautiful day in Paris, France; but trouble begins when two groups of shady Middle Eastern characters conduct a meeting - ostensibly to exchange a cache of Weapons of Mass Destruction for cash - and the plan is foiled by the arrival of Team America. The heroes are triumphant, but lives are lost, including team member Carson is killed; he had been the boyfriend of teammate Lisa.
Next we see the group's leader, the white-haired Spottswoode, attempting to recruit Gary Johnston, who's appearing in a Broadway play (Lease), to join the team; Johnston is to go undercover as a Middle Eastern terrorist looking for work in Cairo, trying to sniff out intelligence about any new WMD's or possible upcoming attacks. The terrorists learn about the Team's presence, attempt to escape, and are killed. Back at headquarters, the Team celebrates their victory, and Gary and Lisa have an intimate moment.
Their victory is short-lived, however; the next day, a terrorist attack is unlashed against the Panama Canal. Shocked, the Team regroups, and the individual members (without Gary, who feels himself partly responsible and who still suffers from a childhood trauma related to his showmanship) take off toward Durkadurkistan, the nation responsible. The Team's morale is low; it seems that Team member Sarah was starting to like Gary, and feels betrayed by Lisa's night with him; meanwhile Joe, who secretly loves Sarah, states he feels like taking on a suicide mission. Engaging with the enemy, the Team is attacked by Korean air and naval forces; apparently North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is behind the terror attacks. The Team are taken hostage. Back home, the Team headquarters is all but destroyed by a rampaging Michael Moore, after a group of Hollywood stars comprising the Film Actors Guild blame Team America for the attack on the Canal.
Gary, after getting drunk and wallowing in self-pity, comes upon the wrecked headquarters and is shocked to find Spottswoode still alive. Spottswoode announces his plan to cause the Team's vehicles to self-destruct and destroy the Korean leadership - even if it means killing the Team America members in the process. Gary attempts to convince Spottswoode to instead let him go undercover inside the Korean headquarters (where a fake peace rally, bringing various political and show-business persons together while Kim detonates bombs worldwide, will soon be held). Gary has a difficult time convincing Spottswoode - and only does so, at the latter's insistence, after performing oral sex on him. Convinced at last, Spottswoode get Gary ready for the mission.
Gary makes it into the Korean headquarters and frees his teammates; before they can escape and foil Kim's plan, however, they meet with a new crop of enemies: the Film Actors Guild members, comprised of such Hollywood stars as Alec Baldwin, Janeane Garofalo, and George Clooney. After a pitched battle the F.A.G. members are defeated - and Gary finds himself standing before the assembled political leaders, giving the performance of his life. He convinces them not to trust Kim Jong-Il, who finally, in disgust, picks up a machine gun and kills Alec Baldwin, the last F.A.G. Lisa manages to kick the dictator over a ledge, where he is impaled on the Austrian delegate's spiked helmet; it is then revealed that all along Kim had been an alien bent on world destruction, as a cockroach-like creature crawls from the limp Kim's open mouth and into a nearby escape pod, which then rockets him to safety. But the world is safe again.
When I first heard that Matt Stone and Trey Parker - the beloved creators of South Park and stars of BASEketball and Orgazmo - were making a puppet-based action film along the lines of Thunderbirds, I thought, "Fuck yeah!" or something similar. As every South Park fan knows, Stone & Parker aren't afraid to wade into the most vicious of satire or the crudest of humor. Team America: World Police is, first and foremost, a comedy, and it gets its humor wherever it can find it, from subtle visual gags dealing with the puppet stars to spot-on parodies to scorching satire.
A lot of people who haven't seen the film sniff condescendingly not only at the fact that it uses puppets, but also at its perceived politics: of course it's going to be a Bush-bashing liberal-Hollywood picture. To be sure, TA:WP does make fun of strident Americanism and U.S. military endeavors: in the act of saving the world, the Team ends up destroying such landmarks as the Louvre and the Sphinx, telling the local citizens that no thanks are necessary; in fact each foreign location is referenced in relation to its distance from the United States (specifically, New York City). The Team goes to battle in red-white-and-blue military vehicles, racing out of secret doorways in Mount Rushmore, hard rock music blaring. In this way, the film serves as a sort of spoof of what most American pro-war factions want our military to be: clean-cut, white all-American heroes going off to kick ass before returning home to cocktails and their best girls.
But the film saves much of its venom for the Left: a coalition of top American actors are coordinated into a group whose acronym spells out FAG, and who in their zealous campaign to oppose Team America's efforts end up siding with a power-mad dictator and even become ultra-violent themselves. Filmmaker Michael Moore, most notable for his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 911, is shown (not too unconvincingly) to be an overeating, disconnected boob who ends up becoming a terrorist bomber.
Still, there are some notable characters missing from the political savaging the film hands out: neither President Bush, nor John Kerry (the film opened just before the November 2004 election) are present. For that matter, neither are any other American political officials, nor the obvious villains of choice like Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Ladin (both of whom had already been lampooned on South Park). Instead, the only real political figures to appear are Hans Blix - the United Nations weapons inspector (who is summarily fed to the sharks) - and Kim Jong-Il, the Korean dictator... who, for all of his general evil qualities, might as well have been a made-up villain. (Although the boys do make the most of his faux-Korean accent.)
But not all of the humor is political; far from it. The film as a whole is a parody of high-action blockbusters like Die Hard and Independence Day; the effects are mae all the more ludicrous here because they are rendered upon sets which are obviously models. The characters are composed of the usual action-film varieties needed in this context, which include various males and females to form interlocking love triangles, and an angry, skeptical teammate whose job is to generate tension within the group (and who is, of course, won over by the end). [Naturally, the 'lack of characterization' was panned by ignorant critics. Are these people idiots? The Team America characters were never supposed to be realistic, but had specific roles to play within the plot of the film. Most of all, they were spoofs of cookie-cutter characters in other action flicks. Why is this so hard to understand?]
Lots of other, less obvious, parodies abound. "Freedom Isn't Free" is a takeoff of various pro-war country music songs (and doesn't stray too far from its sources in ridiculousness); Gary's play Lease is an obvious poke at Rent, but in its way is also a dig at practically any Left-leaning Broadway show; since the original idea for the film began when Parker & Stone discovered the 60's British puppet-action show Thunderbirds, there are some obvious references there (including Spottswoode being a clone to Jeff Tracy); and more, too numerous to mention.
The film isn't for everyone; a lot of viewers will be turned off by the language and some of the crude, very visual humor. (That being said, the sex scene and the vomit scene are absolutely must-see for hilarity.) But viewers shouldn't stay away from the film just because they think they know what it's going to be about, or because they think they're too good to watch a puppet movie that might say things they don't want to hear. In other words, they shouldn't act like a bunch of Pussies.