(In theaters, October 2004) While this film ranks as one of the year’s most unusual release (an action-movie parody using… puppets?), it also finds its way on the “most disappointing” list. The first half of the film isn’t bad at all, actually, earning at least a marginal recommendation: As a commentary on American foreign policy (kill the enemy; don’t mind the damages and civilian casualties), it’s biting and as a parody of action film, it works well. There’s over-the-top theatrics (“Use… your… acting!”) and the novelty factor of puppets is still high enough to amuse. (Still, it’s telling that Team America wouldn’t work as a live-action film.) Everything has to be read on a second level, and that’s just fine. But then writer/directors Matt Stone and Trey Parker (of South Park fame, of course) try to have it both ways and the film slowly progresses into a parody of itself. Or, rather, as simply a non-parody: By the end, as Team America is portrayed heroically without any second thought, the film has shifted in what had started as its target. It doesn’t help that the use of Hollywood celebrities as opponents just doesn’t work as well as it should, raising as many shrugs as smiles. One gets the impression than in trying to be as non-partisan as possible, Team America sorts of misses its own point… if it had one to begin with. But then again, it may be the case that the film is just too American to succeed as a parody.