The Best Movie You Never Saw: Idiocracy
Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time or has aged like a fine wine.
Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), the definition of "average American", is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future, where he discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.
Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge wrote and directed the film, following on the heels of his other cult film, OFFICE SPACE. The role of Joe Bauers/Not Sure is played by Luke Wilson, with Maya Rudolph playing a prostitute who “time travels” with him to the “desolate” future. Terry Crews plays President Comacho and Dax Shepard plays Frito, an unlikely ally to Wilson and Rudolph. There’s a number of familiar faces that pop up throughout, including a cameo from Justin Long as a “doctor.”
Best known for his animated series Beavis and Butthead and cult film OFFICE SPACE, Mike Judge wrote IDIOCRACY as a means to fulfilling his two-picture deal at Fox and finding a venue to express his view on the trajectory of American society. Envisioned as a “2001 gone wrong,” where society got worse instead of better, Judge attracted Luke Wilson to the project, which ultimately led to it finally being made. Fox, however, couldn’t figure out what to do with the film once complete and sat on it for almost a year, before releasing it in just enough theaters to fulfill the distribution deal. In most places where it was released the title wasn’t even sent out, and was listed as “Untitled Mike Judge Comedy.”
Naturally, the film tanked, due to there being no trailers, press kits, or critic screenings. It’s one of the most controversial cases of a film being swept under the rug, especially since Fox has never admitted to the actual reasoning, even to Judge. It’s final box office totaled $444,000 worldwide, from a budget speculated at $20 million. Since it’s blink-and-you-missed it release, the film has gained a slow and steady cult following and continues to gain followers who finally bare witness to the masterful and hilarious satire that it offers.
“We had so much fun making that, and it really is strange the people who love it. I had a weird thing happen where Guns N' Roses were in town and I got an email from Axl Rose's assistant saying that Axl had wanted me to go the show and I was like, "That's weird, I've never met him." But I've been a fan since 1986, so we went to see the show. I was too embarrassed to go backstage, but Owen did and he said Axl was talking about how much he loved "Idiocracy." - Luke Wilson
WHY IT’S GREAT:
IDIOCRACY is one of the best modern-day social satires ever made. Like the brilliant work of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, writer/director Mike Judge has pulled from the ridiculous trends of modern-day life and created a “2001” where things didn’t turn out so pristine and evolved. IDIOCRACY isn’t “funny ‘cause it’s true” as much as it’s “funny ‘cause it COULD be true.” I like to think there’s still hope for humanity, but IDIOCRACY paints a portrait that’s hard to deny.
When an insignificant, average intelligence Army private, Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) volunteers for a top secret Army experiment that would see him “frozen” for a year, something goes horribly wrong and he’s forgotten about for 500 years. Joe awakens to a world that has devolved so much that the most ludicrous forms of idiocy have embedded themselves in everyday life, subsequently making him the smartest man on Earth.
Joe is joined by fellow volunteer/prostitute, played brilliantly by Maya Rudolph, who awakens at the same time, but doesn’t have as much trouble fitting in to the devolved society. However, the two have a strange bond and Joe brings her along in his journey to seemingly save the planet from itself. Along the way he’s joined up with a dim-witted “attorney” played by Dax Shepard, who was ironically involved in the types of shows (Punk’d) that have been labeled as part of the coming of the social apocalypse. Perhaps the most popular character of the film is President Comacho, played to perfection by Terry Crews, as a former wrestler/porn star who is now the leader of the free world.
What transpires is a journey through a reality TV nightmare, where everything in society, from entertainment, shopping, eating, and even going to the hospital, jail, or even the courthouse has become a showcase for idiotic lunacy (watch for Stephen Root as a judge with “Wolverine” hair). Everything has been dumbed down to be as fast, cheap, and easy as possible, thereby creating absolute chaos in every aspect of day-to-day existence. Corporate sponsorship is key, where people, speech, nations, and everything in between are somehow connected to a brand. Sound too far fetched? Nope, didn’t think so.
“I was thinking about the way evolution works, there’s no predators now, so it started with that but then I was actually in line with my daughters in 2001 at Disneyland at the teacups ride….there was a woman behind me who had this altercation with another woman, they both have their kids in strollers and they just start going off ‘I’m gonna kick your ass’….I’m thinking this isn’t what Disney had in mind.” – Mike Judge
IDIOCRACY peeks under the hood of what awaits a society that foregoes the quest for knowledge and progression, opting instead for the quick and easy. Forget your dystopian futures like those of STAR TREK or TOTAL RECALL. This is a place where you can buy law degrees at Costco, drink sports beverages from a water fountain, and get handjobs at Starbucks. If you’re thinking that sounds pretty cool, then it may be time to enroll back in those junior college courses and rethink your life, “Obi-Wan style.”
What IDIOCRACY does so well, too, is that it never gets preachy or tries to lead you into thinking one way or another. It allows you to laugh at the absurdity, while still acknowledging the possibility that much of what you’re laughing at could come true, either literally or in some variation. You’ll likely find yourself uttering, “That’s so true!” as each “ridiculous” scene unfolds. And the ideas are presented with insightful precision; Fast food kiosks, chair/toilet hybrids, half-naked news anchors, and a “rehabilitation” sentence that involves an audience, monster trucks, a grenade launcher and a blowtorch.
“Mike is real clued into stuff that I'll see but it won't register with me -- like the size of Big Gulps being so huge or when you watch the news in L.A., there are these really busty weather girls. It takes somebody like Judge whose got a real writer's mentality to make a social commentary on it. It made me think, "This really is like 'Idiocracy' where the woman's doing the news topless." – Luke Wilson
With a perfectly-suited cast, hilariously spot on satire, and a bevy of clever nods to a possible “dystopian” future, IDIOCRACY is a film that was before it’s time and one that never had the opportunity to connect with mainstream audiences. It’s my guess that one of the biggest detractors of it’s miniscule release was to avoid backlash from those that would take offense, largely because they fit the bill displayed onscreen. And, sadly, many do. However, I think IDIOCRACY is more of a cautionary comedy, which speaks volumes about where we are, where we’re going, and how to sidestep a world where we watch a naked ass for 90 minutes at the theater and give it eight Oscars. Okay, besides SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
“… if someone made a movie in the late '50s about the year 2004, it probably wouldn't have had The Maury Povich Show, and gangs, and whatever. So this starts out as a documentary about how the people who are reproducing the fastest are guys who are too lazy to put on a rubber, and lots of highly educated people are waiting until they're 40 to have a kid, and then having one or none. It's kind of a sleeper movie about how, 400 or 500 years from now, a guy who's your average dumbass today is the smartest person in the world.”
There really are too many to choose, but my two standouts have to be the conversation with the President’s “council” about how to make plants grow. The back and forth between their energy drink Brawndo vs. regular “toilet” water is priceless. The other scene features Justin Long as a dim-witted doctor who gives probably the worst diagnosis ever. Classic stuff.
IDIOCRACY is available on blu-ray and digital download. Get it here!
“... And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn't just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!” – Joe Bauers/Not Sure (Luke Wilson)
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