January 4, 2007
If director Mike Judge didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. When he made his feature film debut with Office Space (1999), a hilarious comedy about the drudgery of 9-to-5 office culture, 20th Century Fox (who bankrolled the film) didn’t get it and promptly did everything they could to make sure it wasn’t seen. Despite this lack of faith, the film went on to become a huge hit on home video and television. History has repeated itself with Judge’s second film (also for Fox), Idiocracy (2006), a satire set in the future. To say it is a film with a checkered past is a modest understatement. While Judge had very few problems getting it made, the studio wasn’t too thrilled with how the film skewered several corporations and decided to punish Judge with one of the weakest, nearly non-existent theatrical releases ever. No trailers or movie posters in advance and not even posters for the handful of movie theatres it was briefly released in. Apparently, Idiocracy didn’t test well at preview screenings because it was perceived to be making fun of the audience that saw it, proving that irony is truly dead, I suppose.
Joe Bowers (Wilson) is an unambitious army librarian selected for an experimental human hibernation project. His superiors were unable to find a suitable counterpart for this risky endeavour and so they pick Rita (Rudolph), an average prostitute. If the experiment works out, the army plans freeze their best and brightest for a time when they are needed. The duration is for a year but after a prostitution ring scandal closes down the base (only to be replaced by a Fuddruckers) where Joe and Rita are stored, their project is forgotten.
Hundreds of years pass and humanity as a collective whole becomes stupider and stupider. Television is dominated by hit shows like Ow! My Balls! which involves a guy getting repeatedly hit in the testicles in various ways. A freak accident awakens Joe from hibernation in the year 2505 to a world very different from the one he remembers (the Fuddruckers has now become a Buttfuckers). Language has degraded into a hilarious mix of “hillbilly, valley girl, inner city slang and various grunts.” This makes Joe’s everyday speak sound pretentious in comparison. Water fountains now distribute Gatorade and when he gets checked out by a dimwitted doctor (Long), his diagnosis is, “you’re fucked up, you talk like a fag and your shit’s all retarded.”
Joe finds out that he’s easily the smartest man in a world where the #1 movie is called Ass, 90 minutes of a shot of a man’s naked butt. It won eight Academy Awards. At first, his intelligence gets him in all kinds of trouble as he tries to adjust to this crazy world, even landing him in prison. Once he figures out how things work, he manages to escape. Rita awakens and finds it much easier to acclimatize to this time period. They are eventually reunited and try to reintroduce foreign concepts like intelligence and common sense back into society.
Idiocracy is one of those rare studio films that dares to bite the corporate hand that feeds it, satirizing the likes of Starbucks, Costco and H&R Block which probably didn’t endear it to Fox. In a nice bit of self-reflexivity, Judge’s film even lampoons the often skewed logic of time travel movies. The future envisioned by this film is really not that much of a stretch when someone like Paris Hilton gets her own reality show and the world seems to care more about which celebrity couple broke up this week or the proliferation of the Internet into our daily lives. Idiocracy imagines a world dumbed down to the extent that the E! channel would be considered the pinnacle of culture and intelligent discourse. Like any good futuristic satire, Judge’s movie is actually commenting on current culture and society. For all of its laughs (and there are many), it actually makes some great points about how our culture is getting more sensational and pointless.
Once again, Fox screws Judge over in the extras department as all we get are five deleted scenes, two of which feature Joe’s girlfriend (who was cut out of the final film) and what happens to her when he undergoes the hibernation experiment. There is also an amusing bit about the Museum of Fart.