Monday, October 23, 2006

Idiocracy [Movie, ****]

If you haven't heard of this movie, I can't blame you, because it's received essentially no marketing at all. There isn't so much as an online trailer in existence.

I'm talking about Idiocracy, the new Mike Judge movie that has been in some markets for a month. Mike Judge is, of course, the director of Office Space, which I don't need to point out has a huge cult following, and also the creator (and voice) of "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill". I'm aware that some people really like him and some don't.

Here's the high concept in a nutshell. At the beginning of the movie, a narrator explains that evolution doesn't necessarily favor intelligence; it simply favors those who produce the most children. In fact, in recent times, there's an evolutionary drawback to intelligence, which is that smart people carefully plan their families and have few children, while the dumb ones breed like bunnies.

Then Joe (Luke Wilson) shows up, representing "everyman" so precisely that he is shown to be the most perfectly average person ever known. He's not exceptionally bright or stupid; he's not a particularly hard worker; he's just trying to hang on to his menial army job until he can collect a pension. The army decides to use him in a year-long cryogenesis experiment, which Luke would never have agreed to if he'd ever watched "Futurama." Naturally, he wakes up 500 years later to discover a world where evolutionary pressures have gradually dumbed down the population to the point where Joe is now hands-down the smartest person on earth.

Now, nobody knows how to write stupid like Mike Judge. I remember an old interview Judge once gave, where he said that he envisioned Beavis and Butthead as two characters who were so dumb that nobody in the audience could possibly identify with them. He pointed out with amusement that this turned out not to be true in reality; one day he realized that people were laughing with B&B when he intended people to laugh at them.

If Judge's ambition was to make characters that dumb, I really hope he has succeeded this time. When Joe speaks with a typical 21st century accent and vocabulary, the citizens keep making fun of him for "talking like a fag." In Judge's future -- which is equal parts "hilarious" and "depressingly bleak" -- enormous consolidated mega-corporations run America. Carl's Jr. sponsors nearly everything, under the catchy slogan "Fuck you, I'm eating." One guy even says "Brought to you by Carl's Jr." after every sentence in casual conversation, because he gets advertising dollars for it. A future version of the Gatorade corporation employs half of America and water is something that is only recognized as "that stuff that comes out of the toilet." The most popular show on TV is called "Ow, My Balls!" and seems to be an entire half hour of one poor guy... well, you can guess what happens to him. However, Fox News still exists and seems to be more or less unchanged.

Judge's future is bleak in the same way that the corporation in Office Space is bleak, only ten times more so. There are some really terrific special effect shots, which I hear were donated by (Spy Kids director) Robert Rodriguez. In panoramic shots of the city, you see vast mountains of garbage towering over inhabited areas; crumbling buildings tied together with giant rope; and a CostCo that spans several counties at least. ("Where's the electronics section?" "Uh, it's about an hour from here.")

This is both a very clever satire, and a completely unsubtle farce. What you have is Mike Judge clubbing you over the head with the message "No! Beavis and Butthead are not the guys you're supposed to imitate! THIS is what happens!" It's hard to say whether Judge himself has been partly to blame for the ongoing idiocratization of kids, or whether B&B were merely comically accurate exaggerations of what he already saw out there.

But I do think that Idiocracy is worth seeing, especially if you already like Mike Judge's past work. If you're not into Mike Judge (and I know some aren't, and that's okay) then you should bear in mind the fact that this is more of Judge's humor ratcheted up to an even more absurd degree. Bonus: the movie also features a cameo by Stephen Root with a Wolverine haircut. Root is a guy who now just has to appear on screen and my Pavlovian reaction will immediately force me to start laughing before a word is said.

My rating: **** out of 5


  1. Anonymous6:04 PM

    "there's an evolutionary drawback to intelligence, which is that smart people carefully plan their families and have few children, while the dumb ones breed like bunnies"

    I LOLd when you said that.

  2. Then you'd probably like the movie.

  3. This does not bode well when one cosniders that the Duggar family has popped out 16 children. *shudder*