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Mike Judge's Idiocracy is available on DVD, but it has never been shown in an American theatre, even though it stars Luke Wilson and is pretty funny. The reason for the burial may be that it's also pretty scary. Joe Bauers, the most average man in the Armed Forces, is put into a time capsule, to hibernate for a year. A hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) is given the same treatment, although she's not in the military and certainly not average in so many ways. The hibernation program is discredited and the capsules are misplaced. Over the following five centuries, American IQs drop, as smart people have few if any people while stupid people multiply. In the year 2500, an enormous mountain of garbage collapses in an avalanche, unearthing Joe and Rita. The Americans of the future are very, very stupid. They think that Joe's manner of speaking is "faggy." All the national chains - Starbucks, H & R Block - offer sex on the side. Bathroom humor is just about the only kind. Tall buildings lean ominously to the side, and vehicles drive off collapsed roadways as if their drivers are unconscious. The mass stupidity is too terrifying to be merely funny.
Oh, and the Brawndo corporation has bought most regulatory agencies and declared that their eponymous power drink - "it has electrolytes" - is much safer for agriculture than actual water. Great news for Brawndo shareholders, but bad for the soil (the electrolytes are salts). This is the part that may have scared the people at Fox. Idiocracy makes a great big loud case for the proposition that allowing corporations to flourish without regulation is probably not a good idea. And maybe there's something excessive about their branding strategies. People walking out of theatres located within shopping malls are especially likely to flicker with critical thoughts about the commercial environment.
Dax Shepard, an actor with a big voice and an off-kilter grin, turns in a memorable performance, sure to be imitated in fraternities everywhere - where else to celebrate rank witlessness? - as Frito, Joe's incredibly dumb court-appointed lawyer (he thinks his client is guilty, and he attended law school at Costco). Frito operates out of the rear of his brain: he likes money and he's horny. He tells Joe of a time machine, and Joe's struggle to find it - he is a fugitive for most of the action - is the slenderest of plot threads. The "time masheen" turns out to be a funhouse ride through historical dioramas, all of which are wrong and most of which involve dinosaurs.
When Joe is not on the run, he's in the cabinet, serving as Secretary of the Interior. He is drafted for the job when an "incredibly easy" IQ test administered at the jail shows him to be the smartest man alive. Joe has the bright idea of going back to watering crops with water. This works, but not in time to save him from "rehabilitation," a mashup of gladiatorial combat and demolition derby to which he's sentenced after Brawndo's shares drop to zero and half the nation finds itself unemployed.
One detail that wasn't lost on me was the passifying effect of automation. An attendant behind a counter might do something - exchange goods for cash, for example - but transactions are directed by the voice of a computer. There really is no reason to think in this world.
Idiocracy is not the sharpest satire ever, but Mike Judge makes his point - it's dumb to be dumb - with refreshed grace and sly direction. If I decline to single out other members of the large cast, it's only because these are not performances for which most of them will want to be remembered. I will say, though, that Andrew Wilson - who knew there were three brothers? - is delightful as the narcissistic gladiator who tries to blow Joe away.
This may not be a movie to own, but it is definitely a movie not to miss. (March 2007)
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