DVD Review: 'Idiocracy'

A brilliant essay on how to keep audiences away from a film could be written based on 20th Century Fox's dire treatment of Mike Judge's "Idiocracy," a satire on the dangers of corporatized America that was, appropriately, crushed by corporate America.

After repeatedly delaying its domestic release, the studio buried Judge's follow-up to "Office Space" with a Sept. 1 limited run, a stealth opening that occurred without any advertising, reviews or publicity featuring stars Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph and Dax Shepard. "Idiocracy" made less than $500,000 and it's now sneaking onto DVD with a threadbare package strapped with obnoxious menu graphics and virtually no extras.

Guess what? "Idiocracy" is a bad movie, but it's exactly the kind of bad movie that Fox should have anticipated it being when they picked it up. That is to say: it's awkwardly paced (even at a mere 80 minutes), visually horrendous and occasionally -- but only rarely -- hilarious.

Given that it's impossible to think of any currently working actor who conveys less on-screen intelligence than Luke Wilson, the movie could almost have been conceived as "What's the most ridiculous contingency that would make Luke Wilson the smartest man alive?" The answer? Wilson, a remarkably average Army librarian, is drafted to take part in a military experiment. He and a common streetwalker (Rudolph) are put into hibernation for a year, but instead end up frozen for 500. During that time, humans become progressively dumber (it has something to do with corporate expansion, inane popular culture and the fact that stupid people reproduce more frequently than smart ones).

The future is an ugly place and not just because Mike Judge's visual style is inert enough to make Kevin Smith look like Martin Scorsese. The Earth has become a trash-filled wasteland in which the water fountains spew a green energy drink, the top TV show is the self-explanatory "Ow! My Balls" and a slew of Oscars went to an equally self-explanatory film titled only "Ass." Familiar brand names dot the horizon, but Starbucks, CostCo and particularly Fuddruckers have taken unseemly turns. The president (Terry Crews, getting laughs more consistently than anybody else) is a retired wrestler, who treats the government like an extension of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

As you may have gathered from that description, "Idiocracy" is a broad little movie. Wilson evinces the same slack-jawed confusion at both the future's disrepair and his new-found genius status, but he's just the still center around whom all manner of sight gags and toss-off jokes fly. In fact, "Idiocracy" is a far better movie to watch on DVD than it ever could have been in the theaters, because many of the sharpest pokes in the eye of modern consumerism are overheard snatches of dialogues, the fine print on various signs and costuming and art design choices that lurk far in the background.

Judge's "Office Space" has gone from cult treasure to mainstream favorite thanks to a vision of the cubicle nation in which every detail feels familiar and taken from life. Similarly, "Idiocracy's" warning that people are becoming slaves to big business and the media, which will eventually lead to our ruin also feels familiar, which may be because "Futurama" did a far better job of mining the identical territory.

This is the kind of movie where you'd kill for a director's commentary, preferably one on which Judge could go into detail on his film's lengthy journey in the wilderness. Fat chance. I'd also have loved a featurette explaining how Judge and company secured the ability to relentlessly mock so many companies by name. Again, no dice. Instead, there are a few deleted scenes, none of which add to the sparse story or lead one to the belief that the funniest moments ended up on the cutting room floor. And a special pox on whoever devised the main menus, all flashing lights, shouting sound effects and indistinguishable options. Perhaps if "Idiocracy" finds an audience on DVD (a possibility I wouldn't rule out) a better DVD could be a year or two away.