Idiocracy

Idiocracy

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

At one point in Aliens Sigourney Weaver angrily asks a disbelieving board of inquiry: “Did IQs just drop while I was out there?” In Idiocracy – a vision of an equally nightmarish and dystopian future, albeit with a few more laughs – they’ve not so much dropped as plummeted.

Revisiting Mike Judge's gloriously silly, but pin-sharp, satire of mass culture six years on it’s scary to reflect how many of his predictions (TV becoming more gormless the more channels proliferate; fame without talent becoming easier; and politics becoming another branch of entertainment) seem even more spot-on now than they did then – and not just where the good old US of A is concerned.

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As the Narrator (Mann, sounding like Charlton Heston’s more portentous brother) explains in the opening montage, without natural predators it’s possible for humanity to evolve dominated by those who reproduce most often – ie stupid people. The result, 500 years in the future, is a society utterly devoted to crass commercialism, in which sex is just another commodity, big business rules everything and any dissenting voice is howled down by a chorus of anti-intellectual abuse.

Ring any bells? As you can imagine from the creator of the animated classics Beavis and Butthead and King Of The Hill (not to mention his equally acerbic and astute movie debut Office Space) there’s a gleefully anarchic delight in skewering the worst excesses of his homeland’s culture while at the same time taking a guilty pleasure in them.

Into the maelstrom comes a visitor from the present day - Joe Bauers (Wilson) a terminal slacker who’s found a desk job in the Army is the ideal way to do as little as possible all day. But his under-achieving ordinariness is the very thing that gets him selected for a top-secret ‘hibernation project’, his superiors reasoning that there’s no point in wasting people of test pilot or astronaut calibre on an experiment that could well backfire.

As indeed it does – he’s teamed with civilian volunteer Rita (Rudolph), a streetwalker attracted by the prospect of an escape from the ghetto. But when the officer in charge of the project immerses himself a little too much in the playa lifestyle and gets busted, the duo’s cryogenic pods lie forgotten.

They’re eventually jolted open by a garbage avalanche typical of the America of 2505 and emerge into a world where giant TVs deliver programmes consisting entirely of people getting hit where it hurts most, sports drinks are used to water the crops and Starbucks – well, let’s just say they offer you more than a sprinkling of cinnamon with your latte.

Joe’s average IQ makes him the cleverest person on the planet by some distance, and this soon brings him to the attention of the President (Crews) - a former wrestler and porn star elected largely for his preponderance of bling and ability to party hearty. But when Joe fails to provide instant answers for the country’s many problems he’s put on trial – the justice system having evolved, naturally, into a cross between a demolition derby and a WWF smackdown.

His lawyer Frito Pendejo (Shephard), enticed by the prospect of Joe returning to the present and opening a bank account for him which will yield “like, billions of dollars”, arranges for his escape and they set off to find Rita and locate a legendary “time machine” which may just offer a way back...

Judge crams a lot of very silly and often non-PC but consistently laugh-out-loud set pieces into a running time that ensures the premise isn’t exposed to sustained scrutiny. But he and co-writer Cohen (who’s since moved into the big league with scripts for Tropic Thunder,Men in Black 3 and the upcoming Ghostbusters 3) retain an affection for their very flawed characters that prevents the film becoming just an outpouring of bile or a exercise in mutual back-slapping by right-on Hollywooders congratulating themselves that they’re not like these awful rednecks.

And the cast get the joke perfectly. Wilson does his patented slightly-dazed Everyman to perfection while Rudolph (often seen these days in somewhat more decorous indie-ish fare such as Away We Go and Friends with Kids) taps into her Saturday Night Live roots for a top-notch comic performance. Shephard and Crews (a former NFL star now among the ranks of the Expendables) have great fun as the dimbulb lawyer and himbo president. And Mann’s constant booming voiceovers perfectly parody the ‘we are not alone’ narrators of classic sci-fi.

That it didn’t do better on its initial release given the stratospheric success enjoyed by some comedies with half the laugh ratio is a minor mystery. The consensus on the internet message boards seems to be that Fox made little attempt to publicise it because it felt the portrayal of brain-dead consumers spoonfed lowest common denominator entertainment was a little too close to the core audience for some of its other products.

I couldn’t possibly comment, of course. But its below-the-radar release has led to it garnering a cult following and, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have harmed the career of Judge. He wrote and directed the equally acerbic Extract a few years later and seems to have several film and TV irons in the fire at the moment. It does run out of steam a little in places and some aspects (Joe’s realisation that he has to start digging deeper into himself to get all these screwed-up people working together) soften the edge of the satire more than, you suspect, the South Park or Family Guy teams might have.

But it’s still a film well worth seeking out, or rediscovering, if you like stupid films that are actually made by very clever – and very funny – people.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2012
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Idiocracy packshot
A soldier who took part in a hibernation programme reawakens to discover he is the most intelligent person left alive.
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