Idiocracy gives new meaning to the term "dumb comedy."
In 2005, the somewhat dim but kind-hearted Pvt. Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson, My Super Ex-Girlfriend) takes part in a U.S. Army experiment testing out a process for putting people in a state of suspended animation. His companion in the project will be a common streetwalker, Rita (SNL's wonderful Maya Rudolph), whom Joe accepts at her word when she tells him she's an artist and her pimp is her boyfriend. That's the kind of nice guy Joe is. He wants to believe the best in everybody.
Joe and Rita are supposed to sleep for a year, but budget cuts leave the pair forgotten, and instead they wake up in 2505 to discover a United States that has completely lost its way intellectually. Corporate sponsorship has taken over everything, an Ultimate Fighting champion is in the White House, and people are as stupid as they can possibly be--so much so, that Joe has now become the smartest man in the world. Led by his court-appointed "lawyer," Frito (Dax Shepard, Punk'd), Joe goes looking for a time machine, navigating an absurd society and jumping from one fantastically ludicrous frying pan to hilariously ridiculous fire after another.
There's not much more explanation needed than that. Idiocracy is the latest film from Mike Judge, the creator of "Beavis & Butthead" and the director of the comedy classic Office Space, so there's no better man to helm a film about a future overrun by morons. His entire career is built on mining the stupidity of North America for laughs. As with his TV work and his other film, the genius of his technique is the fact that he is able to pull off two levels of entertainment: the straight-up comedy on the surface and the subtle social satire that is underneath. You can watch his programs and laugh a lot, and then when you're done, if you want to think about what Judge is saying about modern man, you can. His approach is almost insidious, the way it hides a message in an amusing wrapper.
There are some very obvious points being made in Idiocracy, to be sure, but they never supersede the laughs. The dumbing down of entertainment Judge shows isn't really that far-fetched. The most popular TV show is "Ow! My Balls!" and it's just what it sounds like, a string of scenes where one guy gets hit below the belt. The winner of eight Oscars in 2505 is Ass, ninety minutes of a bare, flatulent butt. As the "Dragnet"-style voiceover informs us, Ass even won the award for best screenplay. Judge and co-writer Etan Cohen (a staff writer from Judge's King of the Hill, and no, I didn't misspell his name) also target the rampant commercialization that is gripping society in its teeth, and in a move of true subversion, they've somehow gotten real corporate franchises like Starbucks, Carl's Jr., and Fuddruckers to participate. A previously unknown sense of humor for corporate America, or proof positive that no commercial is a bad commercial? In Idiocracy, products have even replaced people's names. Instead of John and Mary, people are now known as Hormel and Velveeta.
In the opening set-up for the movie, Judge makes a pretty convincing case for the sliding scale of human evolution. Juxtaposing a smart couple with a not-so-smart couple and using a rapidly growing family tree to show the proliferation of numbskulls is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Luke Wilson is the Wilson brother I'm not entirely sick of yet, and he's good as the aw-shucks everyman, and I don't think Maya Rudolph is capable of being unfunny. There are also good cameos by Stephen Root (Newsradio) and Justin Long (Dodgeball), whose turn as a scatterbrained doctor of the future redeems him for those obnoxious Mac commercials.
Inexplicably, 20th Century Fox has up until this point tried to act like Idiocracy doesn't exist. Though highly anticipated by the legion of Mike Judge fans, this movie never got a proper release. Allegedly, it had a limited roll out last September, but did it play anywhere near you? I know Idiocracy never hit my town. It's a bizarre move, because Idiocracy is really funny. I laughed a lot, which I can't say about most studio comedies I saw this year. Unlike other "bad boy" comedies, like the limp School for Scoundrels, Idiocracy doesn't wuss out either. It maintains its edginess through and through, right up to the hidden scene after the closing credits. Beyond the silly jokes and toilet humor, I even enjoyed some of the wordplay. It actually takes a very smart writer to create dialogue for someone who isn't too bright.
So, rest assured, if there's anyone stupid in the Idiocracy scenario, it's whoever at Fox decided we wouldn't want to see this movie. Together we can show them we're not as dumb as they think we are, and we know a good comedy when we see it.
I watched an advance version of the DVD with a widescreen transfer that had an occasional watermark with the Fox logo. Amusingly, at least once in Idiocracy, I thought that logo was actually a prop in the advertisement-laden scene. You obviously won't have this problem, but I thought I'd mention it by way of letting you know that I thought the transfer was really good, but it may be slightly different than the final product. Since my disc does have menus and all the features, it is likely pretty close.
There are two audio tracks: the 5.1 English language original, and Dolby Surround Spanish dub.
There are English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Five deleted scenes, most of which are of little consequence. The two scenes of the short subplot with the girlfriend Joe left in 2005 wouldn't have added anything to the movie, and two of the others are very short snips, under thirty seconds long. The "Museum of Fart" deletion, I will admit, made me laugh out loud. I like fart jokes, what can I say?
They could have had more fun with Idiocracy and given us some more wild extras, but alas, those scenes are it. I'd have loved a full episode of "Ow! My Balls!"
Idiocracy stands tall as Highly Recommended. When it comes to comedy, there is no greater test than the laugh test, and I laughed a lot during Mike Judge's attack on cultural commercialization and the dumbing down of America. The jokes are as dumb as you probably want them to be, but the end result is subversively smart. While the DVD could have used with some more fun extras, Idiocracy is still win-win all the way.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.