Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ow My Balls!

You've probably heard something about IDIOCRACY, the recipient of one of Hollywood's most notorious dump jobs in recent years. Actually, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if you hadn't heard anything about IDIOCRACY, which is exactly what 20th Century Fox wants.

IDIOCRACY was co-written, co-produced and directed by Mike Judge, the cult comic filmmaker whose credits include the TV hits BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD and KING OF THE HILL, as well as the sleeper film OFFICE SPACE, which also was the result of abysmal handling by Fox during its original theatrical release, but has since become an essential comedy classic on home video. IDIOCRACY wrapped in 2005 and sat on a shelf at Fox for more than a year while the studio tinkered with it, re-edited it, attempted to figure out how to market it, and finally slipped it into about 100 theaters last fall without benefit of advertising, critics screenings or even a trailer, for Christ's sake. It never played in many major markets and became something of a cause celebre for filmgoers looking for something clever and intelligent after a multiplex summer filled with junk.

Fox slipped IDIOCRACY out this week on a DVD that's barely a rung above bare-bones. The only extras are a handful of deleted scenes. If any film this year could benefit from a director's commentary track, it would certainly be IDIOCRACY. But considering Fox has never even allowed Judge to cut a yak track for the heralded OFFICE SPACE, it isn't likely to allow the filmmaker to rant on their dime about their mismanagement of his latest work.

The thing is, IDIOCRACY is barely worth the angst. It's a good comedy, but not a great one, which takes a clever concept and milks it as much as Judge can for 84 minutes. It's difficult to judge (no pun intended) the movie as is, considering the obvious tinkering by Fox executives. Narration by an anonymous off-screen voice (always a sign of a troubled production), failure to develop any of its characters beyond the most superficial traits, and a barely-there climax show signs of the studio's discontent. With Luke Wilson and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE's Maya Rudolph as the only stars, one can see where Fox may have had to be creative in selling IDIOCRACY to the masses. But perhaps the problem lies with the film's subject matter, in which Judge in no small words declares his discontent with the same people to whom Fox is selling.

Wilson stars as Joe Bauers, a perfectly average U.S. Army soldier who is chosen as a guinea pig for an experiment. He and a prostitute named Rita (Rudolph) are to be frozen in suspended animation for one year. However, something goes wrong, and the two are awakened 500 years later in 2505, where Bauers discovers a totally dumbed-down America hooked on reality television, fast food and non-stop advertising (even the government-issued clothing is packed with ads). An IQ test reveals Bauers as the world's smartest human being, and he is appointed Secretary of the Interior by the U.S. President (a former professional wrestler) to solve the problems of a nation that thinks water is only for filling the toilet with and where people who speak in actual sentences are "fags".

I don't think IDIOCRACY is any kind of lost classic, but it is about something, which is more than you can say about 95% of the comedies you've seen in the last ten years. I really liked recent comedies like THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and ANCHORMAN (to name just a couple), but they certainly weren't about anything except making people laugh. And there's nothing wrong with that, but when Mike Judge comes along with a little film designed to make audiences laugh and think at the same time, it should be celebrated, not ignored, despite Fox's best attempts.

And who the hell knew Maya Rudolph had such a bangin' bod?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks man. I just added this to my Netflix cue. Sounds like it's worth a watch.