Director : Mike Judge
Screenplay : Mike Judge & Etan Cohen (story by Mike Judge)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Luke Wilson (Pvt. Joe Bowers), Maya Rudolph (Rita), Dax Shepard (Frito), Terry Crews (President Camacho), Justin Long (Dr. Lexus), Michael McCafferty (Officer Collins), Earl Mann (Narrator)
I had the interesting experience of seeing Mike Judge’s futuristic satire Idiocracy right after seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s futuristic thriller Children of Men, and I’m not sure which is plausibly scarier. Cuarón’s film posits a near future in which women have become infertile and the world has collapsed into violent disorder. Judge’s film, on the other hand, which is set 500 years in the future, posits a world in which human breeding of the infinitely lesser variety has resulted in a populace so dumb that they water crops with a sports drinks, allow the healthcare system to be run by Carl’s Jr., slavishly watch a TV show called Ow! My Balls!, and award Oscars to the year’s top-grossing movie, which bears the all-too-descriptive title Ass. I’ll think I’ll take infertility and violent disorder, thanks.
Fertility, in fact, is the problem in Idiocracy, and the film immediately takes off by imagining how a population of low-IQ dimwits could emerge by paralleling the lives of a well-educated yuppie couple who plans their procreation with such care that it never happens and a squabbling pair of Jerry Springer regulars whose next birth announcement is an irate exclamation of “S---! I’m pregnant again!” in the kitchen of their mobile home. Politically correct? Not even close. Hilarious? Undeniably.
The spark of genius in Idiocracy is Judge’s refusal to candy-coat the worst instincts in our hypermediated culture of poverty. Smart though he is, Judge is a connoisseur of all things stupid (he is, after all, the mind behind Beavis and Butt-head, the ’90s poster children of braindead youth), and he sees exactly how the lowest ebbs of current pop culture could easily become dominant. Of course, Idiocracy is itself a bit of goofy low culture, obsessed as it is with body humor, foul language, and slapstick violence. Yet, at the same time, it straddles the line between low and high, engaging in the low in order to argue its high-minded message that too much garbage will eventually bury us, which Judge visualizes literally at one point as a garbage avalanche.
If anything, Judge sits squarely in the middle, which is why his heroes (Office Space’s Peter Gibbons or Hank Hill of King of the Hill, for example) are always decidedly average. Not heroic, not brilliant, not exceedingly attractive, but rather right in the middle, which is exactly where Idiocracy’s central character, Pvt. Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), resides. In fact, Joe is selected for a top-secret military experiment because he is so resolutely average. The experiment involves putting him in hibernation for a year, but when disaster strikes he ends up sleeping through the next 500 years, waking up in 2505 to a future of decidedly lower intelligence. It is so low, in fact, that Joe is now the smartest person on earth.
Thus, he must navigate an idiot culture in which logic knows no rightful place and his manner of speech is deemed “faggy” because it’s vaguely articulate. Joe is put in charge of solving all the world’s problems at one point by the President of the United States (Terry Crews), who happens to be a former wrestler, and is jailed on several other occasions. Escaping a prison run by idiots isn’t too difficult, of course, although getting away from his final punishment, which is meted out monster-truck-style, is.
Smart and funny as it is, Idiocracy falls short in a few places, most noticeably its complete waste of Maya Rudolph, so effective on Saturday Night Live, as a modern-day prostitute who also wakes up in 2505. This may be because Judge has never been particularly good at writing female characters (note the blandness of Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space). It may also be because she’s largely unnecessary to the story. The film also suffers from shoddy visual effects, which are likely the result of a low budget, but still tend to detract with their cartoonishness.
These are minor quibbles, however, and are hardly justification for the poor treatment Idiocracy was given by its distributor. Inexplicably dumped in a few theaters without a marketing campaign by 20th Century Fox after sitting on a shelf for nearly two years, Idiocracy will surely find a cult following on video just as Office Space (1999), Judge’s first live-action film, did. Despite the preponderance of idiots, morons, boneheads, and dim-witted dullards that populate the film, Idiocracy is an amusingly intelligent satire of all-too-recognizable current trends that, taken to their logical extremes, would literally bring about the end of the world. Think about that next time you’re watching Flavor of Love.
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Release Date||January 12, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The anamorphic widescreen transfer of Idiocracy is solid all around. It is a bright, slightly cartoonish-looking film, and colors pop off the screen with strong, vibrant hues. The image is sharp and well-detailed, which unfortunately makes the less-than-stellar special effects look all the more lacking. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack also works well, especially in the roaring monster-truck smackdown near the end.|
|The only supplement included is about half a dozen deleted scenes (presented in anamorphic widescreen), which combined run for a little over three minutes. Given the studio’s treatment of the film during its theatrical release, it is little surprise that the DVD is virtually bare-bones.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment