IdiocracyReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/02/06 11:16:20
(Worth A Look)
Since the beginning of 2006, 20th Century Fox, the studio that has brought you such cinema classics as “Ten Gentlemen From West Point” (1942), “The Model and the Marriage Broker” (1951) and “Two of a Kind” (1983), has, by my count, released 13 feature films: “Grandma’s Boy,” “Tristan & Isolde,” “Big Momma’s House 2,” “Date Movie,” “Ice Age 2,” “The Sentinel,” “Just My Luck,” “X-Men 3,” “The Omen,” “Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and “John Tucker Must Die.” Some of these titles made money, some were flops and, with the exception of “Prada,” critics and audiences considered them to be disposable nonsense at best and outright crimes against the art of cinema at worst. However, even the shabbiest of these titles (let’s say “Grandma’s Boy” and “Date Movie”)were at least given half a chance to succeed in the marketplace by the studio–trailers ran before virtually every movie playing in the multiplex, commercials appeared on all your favorite TV shows, ads ran in all the papers, magazines and websites and they were booked into a couple of thousand theaters each. Whether the end result brought in enough money to justify the expenditure (as it did with “Date Movie”) or not (as with “Grandma’s Boy”), at least those involved with the making of those films could say that Fox at least gave them a shot at connecting with the movie-going public.Having done all of that, you would think that Fox would extend the same courtesy to writer-director Mike Judge and his latest effort, the futuristic comedy “Idiocracy”–after all, he has earned no small amount of money for the studio over the years with the long-running TV show “King of the Hill” and 1998's “Office Space,” a film that flopped on its original release (thanks in part to an uninspired ad campaign that gave no real indication of what it was) but went on to become a cult favorite on cable and DVD. And yet, you would be wrong–having kept the film on a shelf for nearly a year, Fox has decided to dump “Idiocracy” in only a few theaters in a few cities with no trailers, no commercials and, as far as I can see, not even a poster or a newspaper ad to announce its arrival. In fact, while talking with a few local critics the day before its release, most of had never even heard that it was opening and when I asked the local publicist about, she said that she knew absolutely nothing about it. This type of half-assed distribution plan–one seemingly designed specifically to result in theaters as empty as the one I saw it in–would be perplexing enough even if the movie in question were an utter dog but it is especially inexplicable in this case because “Idiocracy” is a hilarious delight from start to finish–a rambunctious skewering of contemporary culture that is just as smart, funny and edgy as Judge’s “Office Space” and would no doubt become just as much of a cult favorite if audiences were actually given an opportunity to see the damn thing.
“Idiocracy” takes its stepping-off point from one of the more popular of science-fiction conceits–an ordinary man from our time somehow wakes up hundreds of years in the future and struggles to come to terms with how the world has evolved over time and how some things never seem to change at all. This time around, our hero is Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), a soldier chosen for an Army cryogenics experiment solely because he is so profoundly average in every way. The plan is to put him into a state of hibernation for one year to test a program that will hopefully freeze perfect soldiers so that they will be ready to fight any future wars. Unfortunately, before the year is up, the colonel in charge of the project is thrown in prison, the base is razed to make way for a Fuddruckers and the cryogenic chamber containing Joe is lost for the next 500 years. The problem, as we learn in a hilarious program, is that during that time, evolution in America has taken a turn for the worse–thanks to excessive breeding among the dumber members of society, the idiot population exploded to an unparalleled degree. As a result, when Joe is finally awoken, he has entered a world where toilet seats have found their way into the living room (so no one has to miss a minute of such TV shows as “Ow–My Balls!”), the most popular periodical is “Hot Naked Chicks & World Report,” the top authority figures all appear to be former wrestlers and last year’s Best Picture Oscar went to a film simply called “Ass.” (To be fair, it does appear to be an improvement on “Crash.”)
Joe tries to explain his predicament to those he encounters but because he speaks in complete sentences that utilize proper English, the narrator explains, “He sounded pompous and faggy to them” and he is quickly imprisoned. After escaping from jail (in a manner that must be seen to be believed), Joe wanders across the burned-out landscape–where nothing natural seems to grow, Costco has literally grown to the size of a city and Starbucks has diversified in a manner that will cause you to never see a latte in the same way again–while searching for a time machine that court-appointed lawyer Frito (Dax Shepard) has mentioned. Before long, he is apprehended again and brought to see President Camacho (Terry Crews)–according to the IQ test he took in prison, he is by far the smartest man in America and is duly charged with solving all of the country’s problems. He tackles one–the lacks of crops–but when his solution has unforseen short-term economic consequences, the people rebel and throw him to their version of the lions (some ginormous monster trucks) without realizing that they may be dooming their only hope for survival.
From his early days as the creator of “Beavis & Butthead,” Mike Judge has been casting a caustic eye at the gradual dumbing-down of contemporary society by a populace that would prefer to zone out on a diet of crappy junk food and crappier entertainment and which harbors a profound fear and mistrust of anyone trying to aim a little higher with such highfalutin nonsense as reading a book or using correct diction. Of course, many assumed that by depicting those attitudes, Judge was somehow commending such behavior instead of condemning it and he was duly criticized by those who should have really known better. With “Idiocracy,” Judge is showing us that not only have things not changed for the better in the decade-plus since “B&B,” things have actually gotten worse and he is mad as hell about it. Although a comedy through and through, there is a palpable sense of anger throughout at the idea of a once-proud country devolving into a giant mini-mall run and populated by a group of people who not only could not tell the difference twixt Shinola and that there other stuff, they are actually proud of that fact. (Pointedly, we never see or hear what is going on in the rest of the world but it can be assumed from this omission that other countries have not been similarly afflicted.)
What is especially frightening is the fact that we are already closer to the future posited by the film than we might want to admit. Take the joke about the TV show “Ow, My Balls!,” a program that appears to consist entirely of a guy getting slammed repeatedly in the groin. Sound farfetched? Maybe, but just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to tune into one of those reality shows where average Americans demonstrate their “talents” before a hooting audience and one basically consisted, as far as I could tell, of a guy getting hit in the groin with various objects.
And I suspect that it is that rage beneath the surface that soured Fox on the film and led them to essentially bury it from view. After all, there are plenty of people out there who love wrestling and eating fast food and who probably think that a toilet in the living room isn’t a half-bad idea after all–why potentially alienate them with a film that suggests that the lowest common denominator is not something that they should be proud to be a part of? I guess I can understand that particular point-of-view but if that were true, why did they bother to agree to produce the film in the first place? Although I haven’t read the original screenplay by Judge and Etan Cohen, I can’t imagine that this aspect of the screenplay was hidden from view. All I can surmise is that no one from the studio actually went through the screenplay before putting it into production for fear that admitting that they actually read it might make them seem “faggy” to their fellow corporate drones.Although admittedly rough and scattershot in parts–the amount of narration used to fill in story points suggests that many scenes were either deleted at the last minute or never completed (I understand that one major effects sequence was saved from the axe only when Robert Rodriguez, a pal of Judge’s, offered to provide the visuals for free)–“Idiocracy” is nevertheless a hilarious film that is about a thousand times better than Fox’s dumping strategy would lead you to believe. Ironically, if Judge had been rejected by Fox and forced to find financing and distribution from a smaller entity–one that wouldn’t have been afraid to handle an intelligent satire on its own terms–he might have actually had a better shot at getting it seen by the public. Sadly, he didn’t and the only people who will be able to get a chance to see it in theaters are those souls lucky enough to have it turn up at a theater near them–at least when it eventually becomes a cult favorite in its own right, they will be able to brag that they were there with it from the very beginning.
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