The thought of the U.S. being run and populated by morons and lugheads 500 years from now doesn’t seem that far off given our current circumstances, which is why Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” is absolutely a satire for its time. What Judge is less sure of here than in his previous, perfectly pitched live-action comedy “Office Space,” is how to build a complete movie around his key ideas. Unfortunately, pic, an eccentric salad of dystopian visions, visual effects and deliberately cheapo stylistics, may be unfairly deemed a loser because distrib Fox held it for a year before opening it theatrically sans crix screenings.
“Office Space” became a genuine cult classic only when it arrived in vid, and, though the same scale of success is unlikely for “Idiocracy,” ancillary is where it will probably receive its most appreciative aud. It seems that Judge, a genuinely gifted satirist (“Beavis and Butt-Head,” “King of the Hill”), is destined for the small screen, even when he aims big.
Ideally cast narrator Earl Mann establishes the pointed premise (with hilarious visual aids) that human evolution actually devolved at the start of the 21st century when stupid people began to procreate at a rate far exceeding that of smart ones.
Army private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is deemed suitably average by government scientists, and assigned to be a guinea pig in an experiment to test if humans can be stored indefinitely in hibernation. Joe’s female partner — hooker Rita (Maya Rudolph), reluctantly let go by her pimp (Brad “Scarface” Jordan) — is intended as a vital sexual mate for him in the future.
While the pair sleeps in sealed coffins on a base outside Washington, D.C., scandals and the closure of the base (replaced by a Fuddruckers franchise and an adjacent mall) render them all but forgotten for centuries.
Pic momentarily reaches extremes — and images — worthy of Jonathan Swift when narrator Mann describes how a dumbed-down nation grows so hopeless that most technology collapses, and trash piles up so high that an avalanche of garbage pummels D.C. in the year 2505. The disaster sends Joe’s casket straight into the apartment of Frito (Dax Shepard), a defense attorney.
To his shock, Joe soon learns he’s now deemed the smartest man alive and is being recruited to serve at the White House.
Judge is terrific on the movie’s big strokes, and its needling of how truly bad things can get when dumb folks have power, but his script and direction struggle with the details and individual scenes tend to fall considerably short of their comic potential.
Though several set pieces seem extremely clever on the surface, they tend to deflate not long after they begin. In any case, there are only so many times when it’s funny to watch fat men and women who can barely speak beyond a grunt and generally know few words beyond “ass” and “fuck”; after that, the chortles fade.
Still, it’s relatively easy to mentally zone out on the poorly conceived plotline, which repeats ad infinitum Joe’s attempt to get to a time machine. The eye can wander off to a cornucopia (care of production designer Darren Gilford) of graphically skewed product placements, which subversively turn Starbucks, Carl’s Jr., Fuddruckers and more into various forms of sex shops.
Judge bravely bites the hand that feeds him — the Fox News Channel is this future world’s only news source –and his movie, with all its problems, is a rare piece of rebellious political spoofery from a major studio.
Pic posits all sorts of aspects of this WWF-type social order that suggest a novel-in-the-making. Its vision of collapsing cities is actually terrifying. But with people so impossibly dumb, pic can’t explain how, when most machines and devices are as fried as the citizenry, some manage to work when it’s convenient for the story.
Wilson is an easygoing human center for a film overstuffed with caricatures, while Rudolph isn’t remotely as ribald and amusing as she was during her “SNL” stint. Perfs are otherwise as broad as the visual conception. Some camerawork and editing is choppy and uncertain, but an effective grunginess a la George Romero is the general order of the day.