Mike Judge’s Idiocracy was one of the greatest films of last year. And not just one the greatest films barely anyone saw, but one of the greatest satires to hit screens in a long time. Truly, the movie could be paired as a double feature with Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Only, unlike the lack of children of Cuarón’s tale, there’s too many kids in the dystopian future of Idiocracy—kids and adults who are dumb— really dumb. And yet, for anyone who’s walked among the masses in a strip mall, they’re all believably dumb.
You might have heard the story behind Judge's comedy (released today on DVD)— it was shelved a few years after completion and released by Twentieth Century Fox as a throw-away, a let’s-forget-this-movie-was-ever-made dump. No advance word, no posters, no trailers, nothing. Why? No one knows for sure, but I’m thinking that attacking Starbucks, Fuddruckers, Carl’s Jr. and Costco had something to do with it. Oh yes, and Fox News, can’t forget that beacon of “fair and balanced” broadcast journalism. Fittingly, this is exactly the kind of DEVO inspired treatment Idiocracy is mocking—that big business rules and there’s very little we can do about it. So, like Judge’s Beavis and Butt-head , his now classic Office Space and his TV Show King of the Hill, Idiocracy (and the predicament it fell into) is both darkly hilarious and deeply sad.
Judge sets his film in a future 500 years forward (well, not exactly forward) in which the entire population has been dumbed down beyond mediocrity—the mass consumers, Big Gulp guzzling, latte lovers have inherited the earth.These are the people who think Carl’s Jr. Ads are so funny and “extreme” that the burger joint's tagline has become “Fuck You. I’m eating.” And Fuddruckers has finally blatantly de-evolved into the Beavis and Butt-head joke it’s always been-- "Buttfuckers." Sentence structure is lost, and the English language is a hybrid of hillbilly, urban slang and Valley speak.
Entering this destroyed landscape of mass garbage is the most average guy in the world, Joe (Luke Wilson) sent from the present via an Army experiment that’s gone horribly awry (he was only supposed to hibernate for a year but his superior was caught pimping and…). Along with him is a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph) who’s got nothing to lose except pissing off her pimp. The joke, of many, is that in the future, boring, no motivation Joe is the smartest guy in the world. And as such, he’s enlisted by the stupid’s to help solve their problems—like why plants won’t grow. I won’t ruin it for you but the lack of green has something to do with water only being used in a toilet.
Yes, the humor is often lowbrow, but that's exactly the point. It’s rare that a movie this smart displays such deft comic timing concerning the asinine. What’s also wonderful about Idiocracy is that, underneath the incredibly caustic worldview (Mike Judge is really giving the finger to a lot of people and institutions here) there’s a tragic sweetness (Judge’s use of Buck Owens' bittersweet instrumental “Buckaroo” is especially potent). Weirdly, you come to care about Joe’s dim-wit lawyer Frito (a hilarious Dax Shepard) and find the President of the United States, or rather, the former smackdown champ (Terry Crews) somewhat charming. The message Judge conveys is that both big business and the public’s embracing of mindless popular entertainment has destroyed us. So in a sense, it’s not really Frito’s fault that he’s so fucking stupid. It’s our fault.
I can handle blame, and so can most people. Why Fox possibly couldn’t is not only overly fearful and controlling, but, as Frito might say, retarded.