It seems by this point that everyone and their unborn child has seen this film, loved it, and complained about how it was not released in theaters. And here am I, apparently having missed out on the comedy that is supposed to lead us all to the promised land is the greatest film ever.
It’s true that this film was screwed over by studio politics. And this was unfair – Idiocracy is better than the average Hollywood comedy. It actually goes for satire rather than just trying to extract laughs from the dumbest jokes possible. Indeed, for the world to devolve to the point where the lowest common denominator has all of the power, the human race does not need to wait 500 years. Have you seen the 2012 Republican candidates (except Ron Paul)?
But the thing is, even if Idiocracy is satire, it is not the sort of light-saber sharp comedy that the film’s reputation claims. It’s too short for any of its ideas to build up and lead to a good pay off.
I am sure most already know of the plot. By the year 2505, the average intelligence of the human race will have plummeted to extremely low levels. Society has devolved to somewhere between Aldous Huxley and MTV, with society focused solely on trivial garbage and shallow entertainment. Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) a man involved in an army experiment along with Rita (Maya Rudolph) a prostitute who claims she works as an artist. They were put in cryogenic storage, but were forgotten for 500 years. Upon awaking, Joe discovers that he is now the smartest man in the world. A man named Frito (Dax Shepard) promises to help Joe and Rita get to a time machine, while President Camacho (football star Terry Crews) appoints Joe as the secretary of the interior in order to solve all of the world’s problems.
The whole film is dependent on that idea of how society is becoming dumber. I could mention the performances (which are fine – particularly Shepard’s supporting role) and the like. The film does look bleak – almost too bleak. But then, in a society where people refer to intellectuals as “faggy,” one would expect cities to be covered in garbage and contain Costcos the size of cities.
But that is part of the problem. If EVERYONE in the world is stupid (and they are – there are not hyper intelligent mutants or even the offspring of anyone remotely intelligent) then how would any sort of structure exist? For that matter, why do people seem to follow the rules of our society? There are courts, hospitals, and even a legislative body. Now, there are public executions that are performed in the guise of a monster truck rally, but that only begs the question as to why any institutions are kept. It would have been funnier if each of these institutions were caricatures of the ones we know (like the aforementioned monster truck rally), rather than being just the same institutions stocked by idiots. That way frustration lies rather than comedy.
Still, it is easy to understand how people have enjoyed this film. The idea is so fresh, almost Swiftian in its approach (this sort of society could have existed in a lost chapter of Gulliver’s Travels) that it makes other Hollywood comedies seem exactly like that Ass film that is playing in theaters of the future. Besides, Judge’s Office Space received a similar muted reaction when it was released. Perhaps cult film fans are looking for a similar sort of brilliance in this one.
But Office Space differs in the fact that it actually developed its characters beyond the requirements of the script. Milton, for example, seemed to have a history and a certain tragedy about his current position in life. He was not merely the “comic relief character.” Idiocracy does not have any of that such relatable characters. All of the denizens of the future are interchangeable, and Rita is a worthless character. Only Joe has some real human moments, but is quickly assigned a role and does not progress beyond what the story requires him to be.
Yes, the idea was an inspired one (even if its vaguely eugenic overtones are slightly unsettling). But its lack of characterization prevents Idiocracy from rising to greater heights.
There is a really clever idea present in Idciocracy. It could have been a slam dunk as a satirical look at how our culture constantly appeals to the lowest demographic base possible. But that is all Judge seemed to have – an idea. A film like this should have been willing to go for broke. Judge has shown himself capable of doing so in the past, and I have no doubt that he will do so again. I am glad that this film has found an audience after being pushed aside by studio politics. Still, that same audience has been over-hyping it to the point where they think it is the next great satire. It could have been, but as it stands, Idiocracy still is too dependent on its own idea and does not seek to examine what its strengths.