Monday, March 12, 2007

Idiocracy (2006)

Idiocracy (2006)

Idiocracy, from writer / director Mike Judge, was buried by 20th Century Fox, who treated it like a child they were ashamed of and gave it a perfunctory limited release with zero marketing. There's a lot of speculation as to why, with the popular theories being that this was done either because there was a falling out between Judge and the studio, or because the film was something that hit too close to home for the masses - it attacks cultural decadence, anti-intellectualism, and corporate omnipotence. Whatever the reason, it's a shame because the film is quite good, though I don't think it reaches the greatness of Judge's last film, Office Space.

Idiocracy is sci-fi comedy about Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), an average man serving in the Army, and a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph), who become part of a military hibernation experiment. Unfortunately, things go wrong, and instead of hibernating for one year as intended, they end up in hibernation for 500 years. The opening sketch that serves as an introduction to the film informs us that as a result of stupid people breeding more than smart people, average intelligence would fall drastically over the years. When 'average' Joe wakes up, he's literally the smartest man on the planet. Disoriented, he breaks into a man named Frito's (Dax Shephard) apartment and is promptly chased out. The truth slowly begins to dawn on Joe as the stupidity of the populace is revealed - people are barely literate, speak with simplistic words, watch inane television programmes, and lack even the most basic comprehension about how pretty much anything works.

After Joe goes to a 'hospital' for a check up but is unable to pay, he winds up getting arrested. During the goofy trial that ensues, his lawyer turns out to be Frito, who aids the prosecution in getting him convicted. Joe uses his superior intellect to break out of jail quite easily and convinces Frito to help him try to find a way back to his own time, promising to reward him by opening a bank account for him in the past (thus allowing 500 years of interest to accrue). They find Rita and take her with them. While being guided to a Time Machine by Frito, Joe is caught and brought in to the White House because the IQ test he took before going to jail has singled him out as a genius, and the wrestler/porn-star President (Terry Crews) wants his help to solve society's problems within a week. To give you an idea of what the president of the future is like, I submit his opening line when addressing the nation: "Shit. I know shit's bad right now, with all that starving bullshit, and the dust storms, and we are running out of french fries and burrito covers. But I got a solution."

Idiocracy is a satire that mocks the dumbing down of society, and I love the concept of the film. There's rampant anti-intellectualism (Joe is branded as "talking like a fag" by everyone), people are stupid and reliant on machines, and mega-corporations control everything - water is banned because it hurts the profits of a soft-drink company, and corporate marketing is ubiquitous. In execution the film is slightly flawed but still does the concept justice. The details of the world are fantastically imaginative, and they are outrageous enough to be funny while still remaining true to present reality and therefore immediately recognizable. There's no subtlety here, even an idiot will be able to figure out what the film is saying, and it'll probably piss him off. There're loads of little sight gags throughout the film, and the story is designed to explore as much of this futuristic society as possible. The narrator who explains things concisely is also a very effective device, and his tone is nicely balanced between being serious and sardonic.

While scenes are well written and play out with comedic effect, the story itself isn't particularly inventive and the characters aren't particularly memorable or endearing. These are admittedly minor quibbles, since the future society is what the film is all about. Still, when compared to Office Space's plotting and characterization, it's a bit of a let down. There's also a fine line between satirical depictions of puerile elements and indulging in those same elements, and sometimes Judge seems to have indulged a bit too much (such as the groin kicking gag). The special effects are cheap looking but they seem appropriate for the film's wacky milieu. The quality of production elements like sets and costumes also show signs of being low cost, but again these feel appropriate to the film's sensibilities. This last quibble is also probably budget related, but I have to say I didn't find the film very engaging visually.

The performances are solid all round given that there isn't much to the characters. Luke Wilson is suitably 'average' as Bauers, and his behaviour is pretty much serious throughout - it's the world that's gone mad, after all, and Wilson mainly has to react to the madness. Maya Rudolph is occasionally funny, plus I found her strangely attractive (not sure why I needed to mention that - I guess it's a plus point for the film). Dax Shephard pulls off the part of an idiot to perfection. Best of all is Terry Crews as the outrageous, over-the-top President.

Alright, it's not as instantly memorable as Office Space was, nor as quotable. And the characters are a bit rough, as is the story. That doesn't, however, stop it from being very funny and very scathing in its indictment of many, many things in the world today. It doesn't pull any punches. It's not a movie that makes any insightful new observations on society; it's more a movie that can be watched to vent frustrations by laughing at all the stuff that raises ones blood pressure on a daily basis. I'm not sure how re-watchable it is, but I'll certainly be re-watching it to find out.

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