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.