Directed by Trey Parker, starring the voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Daran Norris, Masasa, Phil Hendrie and Maurice LaMarche.

It's really not that surprising that 'Team America: World Police' didn't do as well as Matt Stone and Trey Parker's 'South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut' in the US. Tearing apart both the right-wing and liberal camps - many of whose members have always had trouble laughing at themselves - left Stone and Parker with the 'middle ground' of cynics, apathetic students and pranksters as an audience for their Jerry Bruckheimer-meets-Thunderbirds farce. They came up with $32m at the ticket office, but the film's budget has been estimated at $30m. Had this been a laugh riot from beginning to end, you would've said that the US had missed out on a golden chance to take itself less seriously, but while 'Team America...' will fare better in Europe, it's a classic case of a brilliant idea in search of an equally great script.

The plot finds Broadway star Gary Johnston ("an actor convincing enough to make a terrorist think he's one of them") joining up with Team America, a highly trained - and buff - outfit whose aim is to make the world a safer place - even if that means destroying the Eiffel Tower, the Arc du Triomphe and the Louvre as part of a day's work. With the terrorists getting more uppity than usual, Team America need Gary to undergo an identity change (cue brown polish and a towel on his head) and start spying straight away. Now the actor whose claim to fame has been starring in the musical 'LEASE' is faced with saving the world - and learning that freedom isn't free.

Any film which ridicules Kim Jong-Il, Michael Moore, Hollywood liberals (represented here by FAG - the Film Actors Guild), the war on terror, US foreign policy and action movies isn't short of either targets or ammunition, but the most shocking thing about 'Team America...' is how many times it misses the mark. It begins promisingly, and there are times when Parker and Stone get it so right (a computer called INTELLIGENCE, lines like "There's no 'I' in 'Team America' and "Cairo...that's in Egypt"), but what the duo needed to do was have writers other than themselves to keep you laughing from beginning to end. Instead, in the second half, subtlety goes out the window in favour of the lowest common denominator and by the close you're thinking that this film would've been far better and more subversive as a series on the small screen.

With that in mind, maybe it's best to wait for the DVD.

Harry Guerin