This one’s for all the Beavis and Butthead fans out there in Internetville…
Mensa is out of business.
Joe Bauers is an average guy. I mean that entirely literally. As a soldier, he’s been tested every which way but loose and he always lands right at the peak of the bell curve. Since he is so average, he is chosen as the test subject for an experiment in human hibernation. The test is due to last for one year, but due to an unfortunate incident that I don’t need to go into at this juncture, Joe ended up on ice for 500 years. In that time, human intelligence has regressed considerably. The goalposts have been moved and Joe is no longer average. Joe is now the smartest man in the world. Unfortunately, the world is gone to shit. Gardening ensues.
Idiocracy was Mike Judge’s follow-up to the cult workplace comedy Office Space, his satire of the current state of Corporate America. Despite that film’s reputation nowadays, it wasn’t a huge success on its initial release. Judge managed to get Idiocracy greenlit and produced (on a miniscule budget, incidentally) but distribution turned out to be a stumbling block. The flick sat on the shelf for over a year after reports of poor test screenings before an extremely limited theatrical run that some pundits at the time decried as the bare minimum Fox was contractually obligated to provide ahead of the DVD release. Idiocracygrossed less than $500,000 at the box office, but the positive word of mouth combined with Judge’s reputation means that disc sales have since turned over more than twenty times that. And deservedly so.
Idiocracy is Judge’s State of the Nation address; an angry tirade at intellectual apathy, insidious advertising and rampant consumerism all wrapped up in an easy to swallow, comedy-flavoured, crispy shell. While much more egalitarian and brightly coloured, this future world is no less terrifying than the one from yesterday’s In Time; perhaps it is even scarier, since these people aren’t even aware of how bad their lives are. In a world where IQ and shoe size are generally interchangeable, there is no space for a ruling elite. Those in power are just as addle-headed as the rest.
Luke Wilson plays Joe, and his vaguely exasperated Everyman demeanour is perfectly suited to the material. Maya Rudolph is Rita, a prostitute from the present day recruited by the army to be a second guinea pig. Joe’s acceptance of her cover story that she’s an artist is both a running gag and a constant reminder that genius is relative. Special mention however must go to Terry Crews. After being the best thing in The Expendables, he has recently been displaying his dramatic chops as Will McAvoy’s bodyguard in HBO’s The Newsroom, but to many fans his signature role will always be Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho; part gangsta, part televangelist, part Rick James, all President of the United States of America. So enduringly popular is he, there have been rumblings just last month about Camacho getting his own spin-off of some sort.
As you would expect from Mike Judge, the humour in Idiocracy covers all the bases from sight gags to fart gags to social satire and everything in between. Admittedly some of it doesn’t quite hit the mark, but enough does to keep you laughing for most of the sparse 80-minute running time. One of the film’s biggest problem areas, however, is with the visual effects, particularly the digital mattes and compositing. I watched the flick today on my laptop where the small screen made the lesser quality images seem sort of charmingly inept. As you watch this on a larger TV, these flaws would just get more and more distracting. I can’t blame Judge or his crew for this; like the release snafu, the budgetary limitations were just another way for the studio to mess everybody around.
Idiocracy is an entertaining, funny and thought-provoking film. Worth your time.