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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Idiocrasy" (2006)

Mike Judge’s "Idiocracy" might as well be the story of Fox Studios. Judge’s depiction of a dumbed-down future in the year 2500 might be a satirical and damning summation of where we are and where we’re going, but it is most definitely a prophetic account of what would eventually happen to one of the smartest movies to come out of Fox Studios in a long time. Judge’s comedy turned out to be far too smart and far too subversive for this studio, that they didn’t even bother making a trailer for it. Even hasn’t updated the status of this movie since September of last year. Even local representatives of Fox had no idea this movie would be opening this weekend. What happened? Apparently, Fox’s continuing efforts to dumb us all down is what happened, thus bringing Judge’s comic vision of the future into fruition and the whole endeavor full circle.

Shame on them. Okay, fine, so Luke Wilson can’t sell a movie on his own. Okay, fine, the movie’s concept might have looked too cartoonish and fanciful for mainstream tastes when put in trailer form. Okay, fine, Mike Judge remains more of a cult hero than a marquee name. The studio should have at least given this movie a chance. Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect from this film when I walked into the theater, but "Idiocracy" turned out to be one of the most hilarious movies of the year and probably the funniest thing Mike Judge has ever done.

The concept is simple enough. Luke Wilson plays Joe Bowers, a lowly Army Private who works in the basement library where nobody notices him. Because he has no family and nobody to talk to, he gets selected to participate in a government-based hibernation experiment. A local sex worker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) also participates. The experiment turns out to be a success, but only because the hibernation pods get lost or ignored for a few hundred years. Because civilization eventually became dumber and dumber, nobody could figure out what to do with all the garbage that accumulated. A common garbage avalanche causes the pods to finally open.

Bowers wakes up in a city that looks like it had just been hit by a nuclear missile made of corporate bumper stickers. It looks like Thunderdome as run by audience members of the Jerry Springer Show. Nobody understands Joe when he talks because he does so in complete sentences. Eventually, because of his inability to fit in, he’s seen as a fugitive, with little more than a slow-witted, Violence Channel-obsessed lawyer named Frito (Dax Shepard) to help him out. News of Bowers’ intelligence catches on, however, and he’s soon put to use in the White House where a loudmouth pro-wrestler/porn star President of America (sorry, Uhmerica) puts him in charge of solving the country’s biggest problems, like dust storms and garbage avalanches.

Judge’s humor is both verbal and visual, in equal amounts. While the movie won’t win any awards for special effects, Judge fills the movie’s visual landscape with so much comedic eye candy, that it deserves some kind of award for Art Direction. It’s certainly one of the funniest films I’ve ever looked at. The characters who inhabit this world look just as stupid as they talk, but not in an obvious way. Nobody’s hair looks right and not a single layer of clothing exists without a corporate logo branded across the fabric (made up corporations, like Flaturine).

Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph don’t have much to do in terms of exploring their characters. They’re simply props to help get the story from one set piece to the next. Eventually, a relationship develops between them, with Rita not wanting to admit to Joe that she used to be a prostitute. Wilson has never been one of my favorite actors, which might only be because he’s been in so many bad movies, but he and Rudolph are good at playing the straight-man/woman guides through this insanely dim-witted world while actors like Dax Shepard and Terry Crews, who plays the President, fill in the actual characterizations. Most of these cartoon-like characters come from a mind like Mike Judge, who hasn’t lost his ability to make stupidity both alarming and endearing.

Like Judge’s “Office Space,” “Idiocracy” eventually runs out of steam towards the end, but not enough to kill the momentum completely. Throughout the movie, Judge lets narration take over whenever a sequence feels like it’s about to run too long. As a result, the movie never wears out its welcome and feels about right at its running time of 84 minutes.

In time, we can only hope that Fox will give the movie more of a chance on DVD and that it finds its audience. My guess is that Rupert Murdoch saw a cut of the film and realized that Judge hit too close to home on Murdoch’s master plan for all of humanity, and therefore nixed the film any chance at a proper release. It’s not that far-fetched, considering that in the film, Judge throws in a major jab at Fox News. This corporation has never been known to have a sense of humor about itself, or about the rest of the world, for that matter. Like many corporations, it exists precisely in the world of which Judge is satirizing: A world in which stupidity earns rewards and intelligence closes on Friday night, thanks to poor marketing and utter contempt for the masses. It is, in a word, idiocracy.

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