Luke Wilson plays an ordinary guy who volunteers for a top-secret military project. He is frozen for a thousand years, and wakes up to find that civilisation has dumbed down to such an extent that he is the smartest man on Earth.
Mike Judge has based his career on stupidity. Look back at the writer-director’s early years and you’ll find Inbred Jed,a short following the adventures of a redneck simpleton. Shortly after that, in 1993, he hit the big-time with Beavis And Butt-Head, a brace of blockheads whose lifestyle consisted of watching music videos on the boob-tube while chortling cretinously. It was a massive hit for MTV, despite the fact that it blatantly satirised the station’s own viewers.
Last year, Judge released what can be seen as the culmination of his twit-themed canon. An apocalyptic vision of a world gone dumb, based on the idea that those with lower IQs breed faster than eggheads, Idiocracy could be retitled Planet Of The Ape-Brained. It’s a superb bit of satiric high-concept that Judge mines proficiently for laughs. Unfortunately it’s also been tragically mishandled by powers-on-high, meaning few have had a chance to see it.
First Judge had to call in favours from celebrity friends like Robert Rodriguez to finish the film’s effects. Then 20th Century Fox (US) refused to screen the movie for critics, ran no commercials or trailers, and dropped it into a meagre 130 theatres. Over here it fared even worse, getting no cinema release at all. With audiences lapping up ‘comedies’ like Epic Movie (exactly the kind of tripe Idiocracy’s future-fools would love), it’s especially sad for Judge, whose Office Space also got dumped by Fox back in 1999.
But there’s a glimmer of hope for him yet. Despite the best efforts of its studio, Office Space went on to become an endlessly quoted cult hit on DVD, and while there’s nothing in Idiocracy to quite match the snaky smarm of Gary Cole’s middle-manager in that film, there’s plenty to enjoy. Luke Wilson centres it all with a sweet turn as the outstandingly average army man who’s frozen and wakes up in 500 years’ time. He finds an America where clock towers have gone digital, sofas have toilet bowls built in, and the fast food and sex industries have merged. In a sly diss, Fox News is still dominant in current affairs programming.
The premise gives Judge and his co-screenwriter, King Of The Hill’s Etan Cohen, free rein to lash out at wherever they see standards dropping and dumbness creeping in. So there are pot-shots at reality TV (with a show called Ow! My Balls!) and all-powerful corporations (in the future, a power drink has replaced water and the President is sponsored by Mountain Dew). The latter swipes are likely part of the reason why Idiocracy got banished — few films dare to feature anti-product placement.
It’s no masterpiece and admittedly slight at 75 minutes long. But Idiocracy is that rarest of things in this age of lazy laughs — a gutsy comedy with something to say. More importantly, it’s funny. Seek it out.
A superb bit of satiric high-concept that Judge mines proficiently for laughs