September 4th, 2006
The theatrical release of Mike Judge’s new comedy “Idiocracy” is one of the most egregious travesties of modern cinema. Not because the film is awful, which it most definitely is not. Seeing this film dumped during one of the slowest movie attending weekends of the year, in only a handful of screens, with no theatrical trailer or television commercials and only a single opening-day newspaper, is a crying shame. Or, at least, that is the most polite thing I can write without breaking into a profanity-laced tirade.
We can go on and on about how badly Fox botched the release of Mike Judge’s last feature film, “Office Space,” but the truth of the matter is Fox gave the film a decent release in 1999, putting it out into almost 1,750 theatres. The film simply wasn’t embraced by audiences until its premiere on cable and DVD. Since then, “Office Space” has rightfully found a cult audience, with its dead-on characterizations and wish-fulfillment fantasies of practically everyone who has ever worked in that type of environment. So the question is, why didn’t “Idiocracy” get any kind of chance to sink or swim on its own merits? Why was this hidden away from the press, and kept away from most of the major East Coast metropolitan cities? Elementary, my dear Watson... the film is just too savage in its brutal skewering of modern society for mass consumption. While a movie like “Talladega Nights” might tap the audience it targets with a velvet glove, “Idiocracy” hacks away at both the smart and the dumb with a comedic machete.
In a nutshell, On an army base in Virginia, we are introduced to Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), an average man who wants nothing more out of life than to finish the last six years of his time in the military so he can collect a nice pension. Against his protests, Joe is volunteered for a top-secret project, the Human Hibernation Project. For years, the armed forces have been training a number of excellent pilots, soldiers and officers, only to see their entire careers wasted during extended times of peace. So before the military sends their best and brightest into deep sleep, they want to test these hibernation chambers on ordinary test subjects. Thus, the most average person in the Army will be the first test subject: Joe, who is unmarried, childless and an only child with no living relatives to ask nosy questions if something goes wrong. Unable to find a suitable female soldier, the brass are forced out into the private sector, bringing in a young woman named Rita (Maya Rudolph), who only agrees to join up in exchange for the dropping of some criminal charges and a fee paid to her pimp, Upgrayedd (with two D's for "a double dose of the pimpin'"). As is wont to happen, the project doesn’t quite go the way it was planned, and Joe and Rita are kept in hibernation for five hundred years, until a tidal wave of trash their pods have become a part of sends them crashing into an unfamiliar future, which has become overrun with simpleton mongoloids, caused by hundreds of years of overbreeding by the cesspool of society and a lack of breeding by the best and brightest.
In my January 2004 review of the screenplay, I said “So savage and scabrous does this screenplay get at times, this reviewer cannot imagine the powers of be allowing everything in the script to make it to the final cut. Which would be a shame, because what makes the screenplay so uproarious is its brutal honesty about what is happening with the world today.” There are a number of minor scenes that ended up being scaled down or outright truncated between the writing of the screenplay and the release of the final film, but that could also be because Judge was never given a proper chance to finish the film as he saw fit. (Rumor has it that Robert Rodriguez donated a number of special effects shots to help Judge, a fellow Austin filmmaker, get the film completed, one that could have a basis in fact, judging from the special thank you Troublemaker Studios gets in the film’s end credits.) What is surprising, though, is how much of the screenplay actually did make it to the screen. (Rumor also has it that the film was the target of a civil suit by several large corporations who were unhappy with the way they were being satirized in the film, and the lawsuit helped the studio lose confidence in the film, even though this all happened after the film was greenlit.) The favorite channels of the future being The Masturbation Channel and Fox News. The favorite television show being “Ow! My Balls!” and the favorite film being “Ass” (a single shot of a bare ass, which farts every few seconds). The size of a Costco being bigger than a large city. Starbucks being a place where you can get a lot more than a coffee (if you know what I mean, huh huh).
Like many of the greatest cinematic comedies, “Idiocracy” is a lean machine, clocking in at a mere 83 minutes. It sets up its premise succinctly and gets right into the story, flooring the acceleration right from the get-go and never looking back until the very end. Not a moment is wasted. Everything that happens on the screen is there for a reason, every joke set up to payoff two or three more down the road. And like all great comedies, having a talented cast with the smarts to trust in their filmmaker makes all the difference in the world. Luke Wilson gamely spirits Jimmy Stewart as the story’s everyman, constantly befuddled at what the world has become, while Maya Rudolph shines in her too few scenes at the prostitute who quickly comes to understand she has a lot more advantages in the future than she ever would have had in the present. Dax Shepard and “Everybody Hates Chris’s” Terry Crews are always hilarious as Joe’s future lawyer and the WWE-esque President of the United States, respectively, and there are great cameos from “Office Space” vets David Herman, Greg Pitts and Stephen Root.
Mike Judge is like a modern Lenny Bruce, recognized as a genius in his time but destined to become an immortal, the impact of his jabs not truly felt until years and decades after. “Idiocracy” will find its audience in the very near future, and that audience will chuckle, chortle, snicker, cackle and guffaw at how right Judge got it. But then they will stop laughing and remember one of the opening lines in the narration, “Evolution does not necessarily reward that which is good or beautiful, it simply rewards those who reproduce the most,” and will begin to cry, as the scenario depicted in “Idiocracy” is truly becoming more and more a probability with every passing day.
My rating: A