What does Mike Judge have to do to get a movie released and marketed? He could stop making satires as merciless and spot-on as this one, for one thing. His second film in seven years, "Idiocracy," was completed nearly two years ago and dumped on Friday, reviewless and unmarketed, in six markets not including New York and San Francisco. (Because who could possibly be interested in the long-awaited movie by the director of "Office Space" there?) It's this sort of vote of no-confidence that gets people wondering -- just how bad could it be? Which raises the issue of what "bad" means to the studio that unleashed "Date Movie" and "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties" on an unsuspecting populace.
Judge has a gift for delivering brutal satire in the trappings of low comedy and for making heroes out of ordinary people whose humanity makes them suspect in a world where every inch of space, including mental, is mediated. The movie would be worth seeing for its skewering of the health system alone -- in the future, hospitals will resemble a cross between a chain auto-diagnostic center and a Carl's Jr., powered by Help Me technology -- even if its opening thesis on the moment in history (roughly now) that evolution tipped into devolution weren't so cleareyed.
"Idiocracy" is Judge's pitch-black, bleakly hilarious vision of an American future so bespoiled by rapacious corporations and so dumbed-down by junk culture that the president of the United States is a three-time "Smackdown!" champion and former super porn-star. The movie begins with a comparison of two family trees. A high-IQ couple waits for the perfect time to have a child, a decision they don't take lightly, while elsewhere, in the trailer park, the dim bulbs breed like rabbits. The high-IQ couple waits too long, the husband dies of stress during fertility treatments, and their line stops there. Meanwhile, the moron population explodes.
Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), however, is not actually a moron. He's an average, unambitious, essentially lazy guy biding his time in the Army until he can collect his pension. It's his perfect averageness (that and his dead parents and no siblings or wife) that make him the perfect candidate for an Army experiment in cryogenics. The idea is to freeze the best soldiers for thawing at a later date, when they're really needed. Joe is chosen as the guinea pig, and because the Army can't find a servicewoman to meet the same criteria, they freeze a hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) alongside him.
The experiment is meant to last a year, but in that time the base shuts down, is replaced by a Fuddruckers, and Joe and Rita are forgotten for more than 500 years. Meanwhile, humanity devolves to the point where it can't take care of its basic needs, like dealing with garbage or growing crops, and when Joe and Rita find themselves unearthed during the great garbage avalanche of 2505, they discover to their great surprise that they are the smartest people on Earth.
An IQ and aptitude test he takes in prison (nonpayment of his hospital bill) gets Joe taken to the White House, where President Camacho (Terry Alan Crews) makes him secretary of the Interior and entrusts him to fix all the problems. But Joe is focused on getting home and enlists his incompetent lawyer and stupid friend, Frito Lexus (Dax Shepard), with leading him, and Rita, to a time machine.
The plot, naturally, is silly and not exactly bound by logic. But it's Judge's gimlet-eyed knack for nightmarish extrapolation that makes "Idiocracy" a cathartic delight.
In the future, Fuddruckers will become Buckrudders -- and then finally just come and say what it's been longing to say for years. (It will remain, however, a popular destination for children's birthday parties.) Carl's Jr. will adopt as its motto, " ... you, I'm eating." The phone company will have merged with several media companies, the U.S. government and, of course, Carl's Jr. Costco will house one of the nation's top law schools. (It will also have warehouses roughly the size of Connecticut.) The streets will resemble Universal CityWalk in bad decline.
And the No. 1 movie in America -- well, see it for yourself and find out.
MPAA rating: R for language and sex-related humor
A 20th Century Fox release. Director Mike Judge. Screenplay Judge, Etan Cohen. Story by Judge. Producers Judge, Elysha Koplovitz. Director of photography Tim Suhrstedt. Editor David Rennie. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
In selected theaters.