Fox // 2006 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 9th, 2007
One of the best films of 2006...and you didn't get a chance to see it
Look, here's the deal. Don't be surprised if one day famed animator and creator of Beavis and Butthead, Mike Judge, goes postal on the people over at Fox for the way in which they have handled his creations. After Paramount pissed all over him regarding his insanely successful retarded duo, the Texas talent had hoped that Rupert Murdoch and the lot would be much more sympathetic. Oh sure, he now has his "F-You" money. You don't give broadcast TV 201 episodes of easily re-runnable syndication fodder known as King of the Hill and not earn a couple of quid. But when it comes to his big-screen endeavors, the company's promises have been less concrete than Dale Gribble's broken English. First, Office Space came and went with little marketing fanfare, and, even after hitting it big on home video, a perfectly decked-out DVD version has yet to emerge.
Hoping to protect himself, Judge demanded certain contractual requirements for his next effort, 2004's Amerikwa. Later retitled Idiocracy (after both 3001 and the film's original title were summarily rejected), Fox was prepared to dump it directly to home video. Threats, lawsuits and an eventual compromise saw six -- that's right, six -- cities get a look at the film last August. If you were lucky enough to catch it then, you probably know where this review is going. Not only is Fox foolish for treating this terrific satire like they did, but, with the proper marketing, they could have made a mint off the very individuals Judge was skewering.
Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson, My Super Ex-Girlfriend) is content to be all he can be -- as a military librarian in a depository no one visits. Realizing his status as a slacker, the government plans on using him as a guinea pig in their suspended-animation experiments. Along with a sassy streetwalker named Rita (Maya Rudolph, Chuck and Buck), Joe is frozen, the plan being to thaw them both out in one year. Unfortunately, scandal rocks the program and the pair winds up traveling to 2506. Thanks to a landfill avalanche, Joe ends up in the living room of Frito (Dax Shepard, Zathura). This, however, is not good news, since this dimwitted dunce is basically brain-dead. So is the rest of the United States, for that matter. Famine, along with an addiction to fatty foods, low-IQ television, and far too much inbreeding, have left the nation numbingly stupid. As a matter of fact, after testing, Joe is discovered to be the smartest man in the country. It's a good thing, too. The Professional Wrestler-cum-President in the White House needs help fighting the food crisis and Joe is just the ticket to solve his problem -- or play the perfect scapegoat. With the help of Rita, Joe must figure out what to do or wind up a pawn in this perplexing Idiocracy.
Idiocracy is one of the best comedies of 2006, right up there with Clerks II and Borat. That it can claim such a spot after 20th Century Fox basically belittled the film by sitting on it for nearly two years, only to dump it unceremoniously in a few far-flung theaters, speaks volumes for the current state of humor. This is not meant to belittle Mike Judge's masterpiece of satiric savagery, but is mentioned to argue why cinematic wit is in such a stupor. When a studio whose main goal is to earn a buck or two can't see the inherent value in this brilliant, baffling attack on the dumbing-down of a nation, if it can't conceive of a way to make the ultimate idiot entertainment appealing to an irony-aimed public, then they should get out of the film business and manufacture frozen waffles. After all, Judge has a built-in fan base, a cult carved out of people particular to his brand of dullard driven joy. In essence, while South Park does smart scatology and The Simpsons strives for a kind of cretinous social commentary, Judge is the genius of jibing the chromosome-hampered gene pool. He was placed on this earth to replant the more moronic members of the sons of the soil.
So why won't Fox let him play? The answer, sadly, is rather obvious. Fear of reprisal. You see, Idiocracy is a movie based on an incredibly ballsy premise -- in essence, while the smart and well-off take into consideration personal and social situations before deciding to procreate, the below-average trailer-trash bottom-feeders who make up the majority of the population just keep pumping out the puppies. During the film's unconscionably wicked introduction, we learn that this "theory of dysgenics" (the deterioration of a populace via an evolutionary trend where only the dumbest and most inept are fruitful and multiply) will eventually result in a planet overrun with the intellectual equivalent of pond scum. In this set-up, Judge gives us glimpses of the Jerry Springer-inspired sires, wife-beater T-shirts smeared with chaw and bodily fluids, spouses simultaneously screaming at and seducing their beer-swilling spouses. Right, but what's the connection to the film's release, you may be asking. Well, as focus groups and average audiences go, the very people placed in judgment of this movie's moneymaking viability ARE THE SAME PEOPLE JUDGE IS DISPARAGING.
Imagine, if you would, that Borat was not a delightful denouncement of hidden bias and bigotry among average clueless Americans, but, instead, focused on mocking the oh-so-smart critical community that is now calling for actor Sacha Baron Cohen to become the next Roberto Benigni. Suddenly, the target hits a little too close to home, and people who would regularly promote a movie would suddenly decide that an audience had better things to do with their disposable income. That's the only rationale that Fox could be using. Judge is basically calling the United States a country filled with illiterate dipsticks who can't stop their rodent-like breeding habits. He then takes his comic criticism even further by turning the future citizens into slang-spewing, multiculturally-corrupt brain farts who communicate in a combination of languages, advertising logos, and hip hop-isms. Everyone is lazy, imbecilic, and glued to TV shows with titles like Ow! My Balls! (starring some dude who gets creamed in the nuts over and over again). By extrapolation, Fox believed it was about to send out a sucker punch to everyone who ever championed Buffcoat and his pal Beaver, who giggled at the notion of flair, and loved the Arlen, Texas, titans who swig beers while watching the grass grow.
That's exactly what he was doing, but it's clear that Judge's madness has an obvious, succinct method to it. By making the future fools so reprehensible and the eventual disintegration of order so logical (Starbucks becomes a sex shop, Costco builds a complex that's several cities in size), it's actually impossible to miss the point. We are martyrs to materialism, gladly giving over our very existence to commercialism, marketing, and hype. Beyond the notion of whore-like sexuality, Idiocracy really rants about our attraction to personal pleasure of all kind. Joe sees firsthand how a nation numbed by having every single one of its needs instantly fulfilled becomes inert, problems piling up without anyone considering solutions, instant gratification just a remote click away. Pay attention to the details throughout the film. Look over Frito's apartment, the chair he sits in, the items along the wall. This says more about where we are as a nation than anything to do with uncontrolled reproduction and lowering I.Q.s. In fact, that stuff is just the opening salvo in a spiel overloaded with condemning and contradictory comedic touches.
It is safe to say that, once you tune into Judge's jaundiced wavelength, you will recognize just how drop-dead hilarious this all is. There are levels to the humor here -- broad and subversive, scatological and significant. All three leads are incredibly proficient in getting us to buy the premise, and, even with the slipshod effects Judge had to weasel out of Fox (some were even done, completely for free, by friend and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez), the future looks incredibly awful, like a combination of The Dark Backward and a David Lynch lampoon. Special props go out to the final-act set piece, where an imprisoned Wilson must be rehabilitated from his lying, effeminate ways (everybody in the future is so slow and unintelligible that they find anyone who speaks in a easily discernible manner to be "gay"). Once again, using real life as an extension, the criminal justice system has decided that monster trucks loaded with deadly weapons are the way to reform and punish the incarcerated. From the spot-on spite leveled at sports drinks (the most pointless product ever sold to consumer suckers) to the manner in which politics is played as one huge joke (no need to look to the future for that one), Idiocracy is a misunderstood masterwork that will probably see the same fate as Judge's corporate cock-up. Office Space proved Judge's gift for comedy. Idiocracy expands and exonerates him.
As to what the final DVD version of this title will look like, it's hard to say. Fox provided Verdict with a test screener, complete with an 800 number to report any disruption in the copy protection tape running along the back of the packet (no Amaray case or cover art here). Safe to say, if the tech specs hold up, the film will be fine. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is a little foggy, but this could be a purposeful ploy to make the future look dirty and polluted. In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix offered is decent, but only gets going when the battle royale between the monster trucks takes off. As for extras, the only bit of bonus content provided is a few minor deleted scenes. Nothing here is really mandatory as part of the overall Idiocracy experience, but it's nice to see a couple of quick gags that expand on Judge's ideas. Sadly, it seems Fox felt the same way about the movie come time to create a digital version as it did prior to its pathetic theatrical release.
While it may seem easy to bash Fox -- and as one of its televisual superstars, Homer Simpson, once said "It's fun, too!" -- there is really no reason why Idiocracy was treated so poorly. Every year, studios release dozens of indefensible films (this year alone saw Zoom, Little Man, and Employee of the Month). Granted, Judge didn't hire Brad Pitt to up the celebrity factor (or in realistic off-title casting terms, Paris Hilton) and the subject matter is shaky in a firm focus-group kind of way, but the truth is that this movie is smarter, more aware, and far keener than critics or any film company wouldgive it credit for. While it may seem like a stretch, especially in a year that saw some terrific motion-picture projects, Idiocracy is one of 2006's best. It bravely goes where no intelligent man would want to go, and ends up delivering more than fart and feces humor. Let's just hope it's not the shape of things to come. We could be facing as much future mock as shock, according to Judge.
Not guilty. This great film deserves to be rediscovered on DVD. Hopefully Fox will see the light and one day give it the full-blown Special Edition treatment it deserves.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish, 3)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes