2/12/2007

Idiocracy Worth Tracking Down

Posted in Reviews at 9:32 am by Stephen

In 1999, writer-director Mike Judge — until that point, best known for creating the cartoons Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill — made a little film called Office Space that was pretty much dumped into theaters by its studio, 20th Century Fox. It received fair reviews and almost no buzz, but its quirky tale of life in a modern workplace resonated on video, and it soon become something of a modern cult classic. Knowing this, what I can’t figure out is why Fox did exactly the same thing to Idiocracy (2006), Judge’s next film.

You’ve probably never even heard of it, despite the fact that allegedly it was released into theaters last year. According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, the studio upheld a contract that required the movie be pushed into theaters before it was released to DVD, though the studio declined to do any kind of advertising or publicity for it. So even though Judge has a built-in fanbase, only the most hardcore would have even known the movie existed.

I had been following the film’s progress off-and-on (it underwent some reshoots and changes after production because the studio wasn’t pleased with the movie), and even I missed it in the theater. But it’s out now on video, and while it’s no Office Space, it’s worth checking out some time if you don’t mind your humor a bit abrasive.

The plot centers around a soldier named Joe Bauers, played by Luke Wilson, who is described as the most average person in the military. After an Army experiment goes awry, Joe wakes up in the year 2505 only to find he’s the smartest person in the world. After five centuries of dumb people outbreeding the elite, the world’s mean intelligence has degraded to the point where “Ow! My Balls!” is a hit television show and English is a strange mixture of hick, inner-city slang, and grunts.

The movie is one of these strange dumb but smart comedies, in which a lot of broad humor is mixed with some more subtle and biting satire, something kind of like Borat or Clerks (though these movies all share almost nothing else in common). It had me in stitches, sometimes at dumb jokes and sometimes at really clever ones. There’s a great scene in which Joe tries to convince the presidential cabinet that plants need water, and they simply parrot the slogan of the athletic drink that they’ve been watering crops with (”It’s got what plants want! Electrolytes!”) — funny on several levels, not the least of which is the way it skewers our tendencies to be affected by advertising campaigns (”Do you even know what an electrolyte is?”).

Unfortunately, the movie feels really uneven. There’s a voiceover throughout the film that feels really tacked on, and at several points the narrator is speaking over dialogue, which suggests it was added as part of the studio’s demands after poor early test screenings. The editing and story are a little sloppy, and the climax drags on past its welcome.

Still, it’s a very funny movie that could have found an audience. I just don’t get why Fox had so little faith in Judge, a guy who has consistently created hits. If you’re a fan of his work, Idiocracy is probably worth your time.

3 Comments »

  1. Ferrick (140) said,

    March 13, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    I just saw it and enjoyed it. It had plenty of laughs and several guffaws. My only complaint was that while many of the jokes were very clever, there were too many times where I felt like the “one” joke of the movie had been milked a few times too many.

    Good actors and I loved the sets and costuming. The voiceover didn’t bother me a ton because it made it feel like a fable, which it was. Great satire, just a bit redundant at times.

  2. SplishFish (29) said,

    May 14, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    I rented this last week and enjoyed it. Quite a bit of low-brow humor, but like you say, quite biting at times. I thought it was very clever in taking existing trends and extrapolating them. For example, the hospital check-in register is based on fast food registers where the clerk just presses an icon for the item. The button for pregnancy/labor is hilarious!

    The voice over didn’t do much for me either. Maybe I would have liked it better if they had gone on with it a little more and did a quick wrap up at the end showing the progress back to intelligence that Joe started.

    I wonder if Fox didn’t like the portrayal of their news anchors and that’s one of the reason they just dumped it?

  3. Stephen (221) said,

    May 14, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t know, I somehow doubt it’s as simple as that. I’m sure Fox isn’t happy about that sort of thing, but it’s been airing The Simpsons for the last 45 years, and that show has always cracked pretty hard on Fox.

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