The Stupid Movie Controversy of 2006 draws to a close this week with the DVD release of Idiocracy, the orphaned brainchild of writer-director Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill). Proving its proposition that America is getting dumber by the day, this feel-bad satire opened on September 1 in a half-dozen North American cities cloaked in a total PR blackout: no press release, no advance screenings, no trailer. The existence of a poster was rigorously investigated. Calls to Moviefone in Austin were rumored to announce showtimes for Untitled Mike Judge Project. New York, with its dense concentration of influential critics, was pointedly not one of the theatrical markets. Local bloggers were quick to smell a rat.
As extensively reported, rumored, and speculated on by Bilge Ebiri, editor of thescreengrab.com, Idiocracy appeared to be the target of deliberate suppression by Twentieth Century Fox, the same studio that had previously watched Judge’s Office Space go from big-screen flop to home-video hit (and with whom Judge retains a relationship though Fox channel mainstay King of the Hill). Word of poor test screenings and brutal studio cuts—common enough indignities—were soon followed by reports of more anomalous neglect: industry-mandated trade screenings cancelled at the last minute, print requests by festival programmers ignored, stingy theatrical bookings. A profile of Judge in Esquire was plotted around the arrival of a phone call from Fox granting the filmmaker permission to screen an Idiocracy trailer for the journalist. The call never came.
Stupid is as stupid does, and the dumping of Idiocracy was, to speak its own language, totally fucking retarded. Set in the 26th century, the film imagines a dipshit dystopia where corporate mendacity and consumer apathy have merged in apocalyptic symbiosis. Judge is bracingly specific in his targets, daring to name names, punk ad campaigns, desecrate corporate logos. A Costco the size of Calcutta sprawls in the shadow of a 50-story garbage heap. Couch-potato shantytowns cluster near Starbucks, now in the business of grande hand jobs and “full release lattes.” The Carl’s Jr. star wears a permanent snarl, and Fuddruckers has been rechristened Buttfuckers. Even Fox News comes in for a roasting, anchored by a shirtless muscleman and zaftig über-bimbo.
Judge doesn’t just bite the hand that feeds him, he barfs all over his audience. Language has degenerated into a slur of grunts, insults, Ebonics, and Valleyspeak. Slumped on La-Z-Boys equipped with built-in toilets, feeding tubes dangling from their slack jaws, the dirtbag citizenry gawk at the latest episode of Ow! My Balls! on the Violence Channel. Ass, the No. 1 movie in the nation, consists of a single, sustained butt shot with occasional flatulence on the soundtrack. (In granting Best Picture and Screenplay Oscars to this Warholian stunt, the Academy, at least, has smartened up in the five centuries since Crash.)
Luke Wilson stars as Joe Bowers, an Army slacker cryogenically frozen by the government in 2006, who wakes up 500 years later when the experiment goes awry. Maya Rudolph co-stars as a hooker named Rita, on loan from Upgrayedd (Brad “Scarface” Jordan), her pimp (“the double D stands for a double dose of pimpin’ “). The casting of these two boobs is the film’s maddening masterstroke: Wilson’s generic, low-wattage charm and Rudolph’s shallow SNL affect barely register in the onslaught of Judge’s future schlock. Offering up such mediocrities as audience surrogates may be the film’s most cynical gesture. Corrosive pessimism is the true hero of Idiocracy.
America—fuck, yeah! Not since Team America has a studio picture dared such irreverence. And not since Office Space has a studio reject so eagerly awaited its cult? Snide, caustic, and uproariously rude, Idiocracy rivals Borat for fury, Fast Food Nation for outrage, and, at least in the DVD cut, Phat Girlz for sloppiness (to name three other 2006 Fox releases).
But for all its searing indignation, Idiocracy trips on a conceptual level by loading its satire on the consumer end of the idiot equation rather than addressing those who shrewdly capitalize on dumbass passivity. There’s an intelligent design to the dumbing-down of America, but Judge largely conceives the devolution of civil society as an inexorable law of nature. Considering how far up the collective ass he’s put his foot, that’s a forgivable misstep.