Idiocracy (review)

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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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Tue, Jun 05, 2007 7:39am

Just saw this yesterday. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard at a movie, and I didn’t even like Office Space all that much. It was “laugh so you don’t cry,” admittedly. I’m surprised nothing from here made it to Totally Quotable. “Next up on the Violence Channel: It’s an all-new episode of ‘Ow, My Balls!'”

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Tue, Jun 05, 2007 3:24pm

It was funnier than I expected but it wasn’t that funny.

I’m surprised a sci-fi buff like MaryAnn wasn’t aware of the obvious precedent for this in the 1950s CM Kornbluth story, “The Marching Morons,” which starts off with a similar premise but builds up to a far darker ending. (But then I doubt Mike Judge was aware of it either. Which I can’t but find ironic.)

I did like Maya Rudolph’s performance though.

Fri, Jul 20, 2007 1:08am

I don’t want to sound like a dick..but you’re all fucked up. You talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded. Don’t worry plenty of ‘tards are leading kickass lives. My first wife was ‘tarded…she’s a pilot now.

Donald Cassell
Donald Cassell
Sat, Jul 21, 2007 12:21am

This is my new favorite movie, and I’m glad that that critics hate it, Critics suck.

Sat, Jul 21, 2007 1:36am

“This is my new favorite movie, and I’m glad that that critics hate it, Critics suck.”

Wow… that’s a bizarre statement… Let’s break it down a bit:

1: This critic like Idiocracy, and while you don’t specifically say she didn’t, it’s hard to fathom why you would say “critics hate it” unless you were talking about her specifically.

2: Coming to a movie critic’s website and saying “critics suck” is irritatingly trollish (which means I should probably just ignore you, but I can’t help myself).

3: And, finally, this movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 67%, meaning two out of three published critics liked it, so your premise that critics hate it is false.

This is just downright strange.

Mon, Dec 10, 2007 3:05pm

Although I had many a good laugh from Idiocracy, I found the movie too downright frightening to be all that funny. Mike Judge says that it will take 500 years for humanity to reach the intellectual low that he predicts; I don’t think it will even take that long, not by a longshot.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Mon, Dec 10, 2007 9:45pm

I don’t want to sound like a dick…

Lots of possible responses to that one, but they’re way too easy.

Anyway, sci-fi writers were predicting such a scenario as Judge describes sixty years ago.

Some older folks would argue that we are already living in the time of the Marching Morons.

Personally, I think it’s more complex than that.

I can’t help but find Judge’s scenario amusing but simplistic.

Perhaps this film was meant to be his intellectual penance for “King of the Hill” and “Beavis and Butthead.”

Mon, Dec 10, 2007 10:25pm

SF isn’t about prediction. SF is always about the here and now.

Tue, Dec 11, 2007 1:03am


I can’t let you get away with this one:
“SF isn’t about prediction. SF is always about the here and now”
no matter how epigrammatic it is. Certainly SF can only predict the future based on the past; and dry futurism is not the most interesting sci-fi, but several SF writers have actively configured the future.
two come to mind: Arthur C Clarke predicting geosynchronous satellites (he could have gotten a patent, his prediction was so detailed) and Neal Stephenson calling out Second Life in Snow Crash. In my industry, more geeks carry copies of Snow Crash than the bible.

Tue, Dec 11, 2007 1:27am

I didn’t say that science fiction writers have never predicted the future or helped create it. But the stories those writers create are only interesting tor readers because they say something about the time in which they are written.

Any predictive powers of SF and SF writers is secondary to the storytelling. Otherwise it fails as fiction.

Wed, Feb 13, 2008 1:58am

Just saw Idiocracy. My god, what a hilarious & depressing movie. I think that world will be here in 100 years, not 500. The House of Representin’ won’t be able to save the conomy or prevent the garbage ambulanches! Fox News looks like it will stay pretty much the same.

Sun, Sep 08, 2013 9:22pm

It was scary funny, and well maneuvered in that it portrayed whites as the target idiots. Whites are stupid too, but the premise is that only stupid people multiplied in excess.
By and large, whites are not even replacing our own numbers. In truth, the movie, if it were being as realistic as possible, would be casted by mostly blacks and Hispanics–they are the out of control baby makers

Sun, Sep 08, 2013 11:27pm

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

Because Amazon is so much better?

Mon, Aug 27, 2018 3:40pm

Not a dick, just semi-literate. I suggest you don’t fly with her. Or maybe…