Idiocracy (review)

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

You would have thought that the long-awaited followup to Mike Judge’s cult favorite Office Space would have been cause for celebration at the studio lucky enough to land such a film — surely, this would be something akin to a license to print money. But 20th Century Fox dumped Idiocracy unceremoniously into a handful of venues and let it run for a month last autumn, where it was lucky enough to scrape up half a mill in box office before being pulled back out of theaters with even less respect for its dignity.

And now it’s on DVD, released today, so we can see for ourselves what all the nonfuss was about. Is the film terrible? Is it unwatchable? It is an unmitigated embarrassment for Judge, one that, perhaps, he desperately wanted to bury but that contractual obligations legally required be released, even if only quickly and quietly?

No. Here’s the “problem”: Idiocracy is even more trenchant, more damning, more — hell, I’ll say it — revolutionary than Office Space. Bad enough that Judge captured the slacker ethos of an entire generation in his 1999 film, stoked the discontent and general don’t-wanna-be-a-cog-in-the-wheel-edness of legions of miserable corporate drones … but that was containable damage. Just let geeks like Ron Livingstone’s Peter stuff their faces with gourmet food and come to work in their pajamas, and presto: happy drones.

But with Idiocracy, Judge — who wrote and directed — takes a surgical scalpel to a far more fundamental aspect of modern American society: our propensity, nay, glad willingness to dumb everything way the hell down until there’s nothing but dumb left … and then to celebrate the dumb. Judge’s wicked satire here is so pointed, so undismissable, so clearly so close to where we could be headed as a civilization that there’s no laughing it away, as meanly, angrily funny as it is. It’s like this: the extraordinarily average Joe (Luke Wilson: Hoot, The Family Stone) and the similarly fantastically run of the mill Rita (Maya Rudolph: A Prairie Home Companion, Duplex) are frozen in a military experiment, and wake up 500 years later — not the one year as planned — to discover that they are quite literally the smartest people on the planet. It seems that the current trend of morons reproducing indiscriminately and geniuses putting it off for so long that it never happens has resulted in a population of imbeciles so stupid they don’t know why the crops won’t grow, can’t comprehend that plants need water, not mass-marketed sports drinks, to survive.

Idiocracy really is that blunt. It doesn’t even attempt to lessen the impact of its sheer pissed-off-edness at how incredibly stupid humans are, both as individuals and as a species. This is a movie that knows how dumb the average person is (Joe is the deliberate prime example, and Wilson plays him like a sweet dolt), and that half of everyone else is even dumber than that.

This is not, perhaps, the best way to court a movie audience, and maybe Fox was rightly justified in feeling that insulting the audience might not be the best way to get their dollars. Then again, most of the people Judge is slapping silly are too dumb to understand they’re being insulted, so perhaps it would have been a wash.

But there’s more. In the logical — and much funnier — extension of Demolition Man’s joke about every restaurant being called Taco Bell, just a few brand names run rampant over the “cultural” landscape of the 26th century, in a way that manages to be an affront to both opportunistic corporations and the patrons that grant them their near monopolies (“Welcome to Costco, I love you,” says the greeter at Costco, as zombie consumers shuffle by). The economic cancer that blights this strange new world Joe and Rita find themselves having to save — well, they are the smartest people in the world; who else should we turn to when disaster looms? — is a rude condemnation of the corporate hegemony of our world today. But hey, if no one wants to think about it enough to figure out that we want to stop it…

Whatever you do, just promise me you won’t buy the Idiocracy DVD at Walmart.

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