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Movie Review: Idiocracy

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Like a dancing goblin in an unmedicated madman’s eye, Mike Judge’s 2006 follow-up to the cult classic Office Space was gone before you had a chance to tell your MySpace friends all about it. 20th Century Fox, for some inexplicable reason, decided to dump this highly anticipated motion picture into a handful of multiplexes with little to no marketing whatsoever. Why wouldn’t a studio want you to see the movie it spent millions of dollars to finance and produce? How could they just abandon their own flesh and blood in such a cruel and unusual manner?

One theory suggests the film is a shambles, a rusty curtain rod supporting vomit curtains. The other boldly proclaims that perhaps the studio had no clue whatsoever as to how to market their unusual production and, in an effort to cut their losses, merely tossed the thing into a few select markets in order to fulfill their contractual obligations. Then, you know, do the same thing with its DVD release.

The latter, of course, makes perfect sense to me. I mean, how do you positively promote a picture that essentially insults its audience for roughly 90-minutes or so? That’s a tough sell, regardless of where you’re trying to peddle your filthy wares. This may explain why Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson and Mayah Rudolph, remains largely unknown. This is a shame, I think, because it’s certainly one of the edgier comedies I’ve seen recently. Not the funniest, mind you, the edgiest. Whether you enjoyed this outing or not, you have to admit the film’s got a hell of a lot of balls, the kind that could tip a dump truck with one subtle pelvic thrust.

The slower half of the Wilson brothers stars as Private Joe Bowers, a military man who just wants to survive long enough to collect that oh-so rewarding pension he’s got coming. The guy’s got a pretty sweet gig, too; instead of blasting foreign enemies with a set of deafening automatic weapons, he sits on his behind in a secluded library watching television all day long. Unfortunately for Joe, his forward-thinking superiors have selected him for a top-secret experiment, one that could give our joyous nation the upper hand in the violent world of ground warfare.

The government wants to cryogenically freeze our best soldiers in order to keep them fresh and clean and strong in case of any future skirmishes. To keep from using their best men as test subjects, they select the wholly average Joe and chronic prostitute Rita (Rudolph) to be the guinea pigs in this little project. Without much preparation for such a daunting task, the proverbial lab rats are thrown into their respective pods and promptly frozen, presumably until the year 2006.

Of course, a few really bad things happen between now and then. Certain military officials are busted for various crimes, for instance, and our frozen heroes are pretty much forgotten about. Imagine that. Cut to the year 2505, an era that finds America plagued by greedy conglomerates, mountains of solid waste, and a de-evolved society of mouth-breathing simpletons. During a particularly nasty trash landslide one afternoon, Joe and Rita are accidentally freed from their frosty prisons and unleashed upon a hideously retarded society. After an increasingly bizarre series of events unfold, these neglected test subjects suddenly find themselves in a position to save America from its sloth-like ways. Is it too late to set things straight?

Mike Judge has crafted one of the most cynical depictions of the future since Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, Brazil. It’s a place where fast food chains have the right to snatch small children away from deadbeat parents, a nation that replaces its water supply with a Gatorade-esque substance containing electrolytes. Mountains of steaming garbage block the sun as derelict skyscrapers are bound together with frayed lengths of string for support. It’s bleak, it’s ugly, and it’s hopeless. In the eyes of one Mike Judge, the America of 2505 is pretty much devoid of any signs of intelligent life – as if we didn’t already know that.

Unfortunately for us, it’s not that funny, either. Sure, it’s amusing to watch our hapless heroes wander around an alien landscape populated by overweight nimrods who sound as if they were raised on a steady diet of Beavis & Butthead, but you need more than one silly gimmick to sustain a full-length feature. If you’ve ever sat around with your friends and puked filth about the future of these United States of America until everyone was rolling on the ground with chuckle cramps, you’ll understand the type of crude humor I’m talking about. It’s stoner humor without the munchies.

That’s the problem. The filmmakers never evolve these amusing concepts and ideas into a full-bodied, laugh-out-loud comedy. What’s worse is that Judge often comes across bitter, smug, and more than a little cruel. There’s no warmth to his ribbing and no wink-wink nudge-nudge to his venomous insults. Not a single soul in this podunk future is worth caring about, so why bother giving the main characters an opportunity to change it? Had this been a chase picture, one that found Joe and Rita fighting to stay alive long enough to find a way home, perhaps Idiocracy would have been a bit more effective. As it stands, there’s not nearly enough emotional investment for its cuddly little conclusion to work. You simply can’t have it both ways.

As a brainless slice of eye candy, Idiocracy is an entertaining experience. Judge’s vision of the future is literally coated with colorful ads, amusing billboards, full-frontal vulgarity, and a collective IQ of about 32. The movie trucks along at such a brisk pace that you often wish they’d just slow everything down a bit so you could fully immerse yourself in this virtual explosion of pop-culture diarrhea. I’ll watch it twice just to catch what I missed the first time around.

Thankfully, the performances aren’t that bad, either. Luke Wilson is basically Luke Wilson; you’re probably painfully familiar with his shtick by now, so don’t expect anything remotely out-of-character on his end. Mayah Rudolph is surprisingly funny, as is Punk’d goofball Dax Shepard, who manages to pull off that slack-jawed redneck look a little too well. Keep an eye out for a few cameos by the Office Space alumni. Other than that, it’s typical comedy fare – neither that great nor that bad.

Now for the answer to the question that’s been on your mind since you began reading this review: Is it as good as Office Space? Of course not. I mean, how do you top perfection? Judge peaked with his first effort I’m afraid, and if Idiocracy is any indication of what’s to come, it’s all down hill from here. Does that make it a bad movie? Eh, not really. It just kind of sits there, spouting the kind of salty talk you’d expect from the man who made brain dead humor a staple of music television. You’ll laugh every once in a blue moon, but not enough to call it a success.

Idiocracy is never smart enough to be brilliant nor too stupid to be horrible, yet calling it mediocre almost sells it short. The film balances quite nicely on that weatherworn fence between success and failure, teetering left or right depending on its rather unpleasant mood. Expecting something on par with Office Space will only leave you with that itchy feeling of complete disappointment. Approach this one as a visually arresting comedy that will occasionally make you laugh, nothing more.

It’s certainly not as clever as Judge thinks it is.

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About The Film Fiend

  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    Well, you’re certainly right about Fox’s treatment of this film – I had absolutely no idea this was coming out next week and I actually wanted to see it.

  • http://thefilmfiend.blogspot.com T. Rigney

    I’ll be the first to admit that Idiocracy isn’t that great, but Fox’s treatment of the film is just embarrassing. It’s a tough sell, for sure, but lesser, more abrasive films have received better support in the past. Here’s hoping my silly write-up will let others know it’s out there.