In “Futurama” Matt Groening got laughs from the idea of a dolt hibernating far into the future; Mike Judge employs the same formula in “Idiocracy,” but with far fewer humorous returns. Groening’s show might have left a good deal to be desired, but he creator of “The Simpsons” certainly outshines the man responsible for “Beavis and Butt-head” in this case. “Idiocracy” is an absolute mess, a disaster of “Pluto Nash” proportions, and easily one of the worst movies of the year.
That’s a pity, because “Office Space” (as well as “King of the Hill”) showed that Judge can deliver the goods. And deep down in “Idiocracy” one can glimpse him trying (as he did in “Beavis and Butt-head”) to comment on the extraordinary level of stupidity that infects American society. But whatever he had in mind in that respect doesn’t make it to the screen. And what does is so puerile and gross that though the movie wants to say something about the dumbing down of America, it winds up not so much commentary as part of the problem.
The set-up is that the supremely “average” Pvt. Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) and a hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) are frozen in suspended animation by the Pentagon as part of an experiment to determine whether soldiers can be put in hibernation to be kept in reserve for later emergencies. The test is supposed to be for just a year, but unforseen circumstances arise, and the duo are not unsealed until 2505. What Joe discovers is that over the centuries the intelligence of the world’s population has plummeted astronomically due to the fact that Jerry Springer’s natural constituency have lots of children and bright people none; and America in particular is full of dribbling idiots and governed by an ex-wrestler (Terry Crews). In this situation Bowers suddenly becomes the world’s smartest man, and the president appoints him to the cabinet with the charge to solve the country’s terrible problems, starting with an acute shortage of food due to crop failure and dust storms.
Complications naturally ensue, but all are of the sort that involve dopey slapstick and stupid gags rather than the sharp satire the premise might have invited. There are plenty of scatological gags and an endless supply of sexual jokes, as well as a running stream of episodes that spotlight nothing other than sheer stupidity. You’re likely to sit through the eighty minutes of “Idiocracy” without ever cracking a smile–grimaces, of course, don’t count.
And some of those winces will come from acute embarrassment for the actors stuck in the disaster. Wilson, as usual, plays things so low-key he might as well be asleep, and Rudolph, though more animated, strikes no sparks either. The supporting cast suffers even more. Dax Shepard is intensely irritating as the dullard into whose pad Joe first crashes–what can do say of a character who spends his time sitting dully in front of the television, watching either “Ow! My Balls!” (just guess what that’s about) or–I kid you not–the masturbation channel? And Crews is no better as the chief executive. But even they shine beside Justin Long, who does a painfully unfunny cameo as a clueless doctor, and Stephen Root, whose brief turn as a hillbilly judge might be career-destroyer were it not for the fact that the makeup renders him virtually unrecognizable. The movie’s dreary to look at, too. The effects are cheesy, the sets and costumes unremittingly ugly, and the cinematography (by Tim Suhrstedt) garish. One has to appreciate that editor David Rennie has whittled down the footage to a mere eighty minutes, but will wish that he had trimmed a good deal more.
“Idiocracy” tries to be simultaneously a criticism and a celebration of stupidity. But unhappily it succeeds only as the latter.