Mike Judge's 'Idiocracy': Evidently It Begins at Home

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

When Mike Judge's highly anticipated futuristic satire "Idiocracy" opened and promptly closed in a few cities last fall (it never played Washington), the blogosphere lit up. Did Twentieth Century Fox, the film's distributor, intentionally dump the movie? Did it have a hand in what most considered the film's chief flaws (a distracting narration, gratuitous expository sequences)? Put simply, did Fox do to "Idiocracy" what it had done to Judge's 1999 comedy "Office Space," and was the new movie eligible for similar cult status?

We may never know precisely who did what to whom and why (although a hilarious sendup of Fox News in the movie may not have helped). What we do know is that "Idiocracy" appears on DVD today, and once again it seems that Judge, best known for TV shows "Beavis and Butt-head" and "King of the Hill," has gotten the fuzzy end of Fox's lollipop. Like "Borat's" dark twin, "Idiocracy" indicts American culture with a combination of scathing humor and barely concealed rage, as Judge projects what the country will look like 500 years from now. His dystopian vision includes avalanches of trash, a U.S. government that has been purchased for corporate sponsorship by a sports drink, and a citizenry that, through demographic reverse Darwinism, has become congenitally fat, lazy, stupid and violent.

Angrier and far less forgiving than "Office Space," Judge's "Idiocracy" doesn't possess the same cult potential, if only because few will be eager to see themselves in the filmmaker's jaundiced mirror. Still, as an example of smart, stingingly funny polemic, "Idiocracy" is essential viewing. If the world is going to hell in any number of handbaskets -- as Judge so acutely demonstrates that it is -- you might as well hitch a ride in his.

"Idiocracy" tells the story of an Army private and major slacker Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), who in 2005 is drafted to take part in a confidential hibernation program; the Army finds a female counterpart in a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph), and she and Joe are put into individual "pods" before being sedated for a year.

Things go awry, and the two guinea pigs don't wake up for 500 years, by which time the country has become populated by porn-addicted rednecks and Uzi-toting gangstas; the English language has been replaced by a patois of "hillbilly, Valley Girl and inner-city slang." A trashed-out landscape that's part zombie film and part broken-down "Blade Runner," the America of "Idiocracy" has become one vast junk food-entertainment complex, where bread and circuses take the form of super-size burritos and monster truck rallies.

With the help of a dimwit named Frito (Dax Shepard), Joe and Rita try to track down a time machine to return to the 21st century, and on the way, Joe is drafted to serve in the White House. But his picaresque journey through one bleak scenario to the next is a mere hanger for Judge's chief point, which is just how close we are already to his apocalypse of mindless consumption, substance-free politics and anti-intellectualism.

While admittedly imperfect and uneven, "Idiocracy," which was written with Etan Cohen, demonstrates the same incisiveness that characterizes Judge's best work. With luck it will finally find its audience. Like Pogo, Judge has met the enemy -- the question now is whether we're willing to meet ourselves.

Idiocracy (84 minutes) is rated R for language and sex-related humor.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company