As a writer, animator and director, Mike Judge has given us some sublime moments in pop-culture analysis -- from the blissful, anarchic adolescent mayhem of Beavis and Butthead (whose early episodes still stand as the best rip on MTV fatuousness) to the sweetly befuddled All-Americans on the long-running sitcom King of the Hill. In 1999, Judge dipped his toe into the directorial pool with a live-action comedy, Office Space, which most critics blew off. (I count myself in the early minority: I raved about this film as cubicle genius.) Time and word of mouth ultimately made Office Space a bona fide cult favorite.
That's a pretty good track record for audience satisfaction, so it was odd when last fall, 20th Century Fox pretty much buried Judge's new film, a futuristic satire called Idiocracy. Conspiracy theories abound (Google away!), but now that the film is out on DVD, Judge fans can catch up.
Idiocracy, directed and co-written by Judge, trades on a comic premise that's both ridiculously funny and actually worrisome. Due to a sort of reverse eugenics, ignorant, trashy people are vastly outbreeding the circumspect and brainy, shifting everything -- culture, economics, politics, social interaction -- to its lowest possible levels. That's what a slacker (Luke Wilson) finds, when, after being cryogenically frozen today, he wakes up in 2505. It's like Planet Jerry Springer, a craphole fueled by sugary drinks, fast food and a marked disdain for intelligence. On the upside, the future still has some of your favorite retail entities like Costco, Fuddrucker's (though its name has morphed into something more obscene) and Starbucks, which is now a "gentleman's" coffee joint, if you get my drift.
The slim plot tracks Wilson -- now the smartest guy on earth -- through various comic woes. There's a couple of gut-busters, including Wilson's jailbreak, and plenty of small pokes at today's low-rent culture and brand-name dependence that'll catch a smile. I remained mildly entertained, even as the pace dragged and the novelty of a dumb-ass future paled. Idiocracy won't knock Judge's earlier work from the shelf, but it's not so bad that it deserved to be sent to megaplex Siberia (I assure you I saw 10 worse so-called funny films in the theater last year). Thus, for fans of Judge, dystopias and cheerfully vulgar comedies.