Box-Office Alternatives: Idiocracy


If there's one thing a movie starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart guarantees, it's mixed-to-negative critical reception and decent-to-stellar audience reaction. Both seem like strong possibilities this Friday with the release of the duo's new comedy Get Hard (2015), in which a wealthy tycoon (Ferrell) insists that his employee (Hart) show him the ins-and-outs of how to survive in prison after he himself is sentenced. Early screenings of Get Hard have brought claims of homophobia and racial stereotyping, yet the popularity of the movie's two stars should be enough to potentially carry the comedy to a healthy run at the box office.

Should Get Hard succeed, it will be another victory for director and co-writer Etan Cohen, who has found success writing such hits as Tropic Thunder and Men In Black 3. Yet for a select few, his collaboration with Mike Judge on the hilarious and somewhat horrifying Idiocracy (2006) remains his best work.

Judge's second live-action film and Cohen's first, Idiocracy told the story of an average army officer named Joe (Texas Film Awards honoree Luke Wilson), who unwillingly becomes the guinea pig for a top-secret experiment. Joe and a local hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) are cryogenically frozen for what they believe is a full year. Yet when the pair awaken, they soon realize 500 years have gone by and the world they once knew has been replaced with a corporate-driven society where everyone is quite literally, an idiot. With the help of an "attorney" named Frito (Dax Shepard), Joe and Rita attempt to make sense of the new and mind-numbingly dumb world where they find themselves.

Judge has always been a great satirist and with Cohen, the two deliver one of the most up-front commentaries on American society. Their vision of the future in Idiocracy is one populated with people so dependant on television, that they find it impossible to even form coherent sentences half of the time. This idea is pushed to the extreme when we are told that the number one movie in America is a film called Ass that is literally a shot of a man's rear end projected onto the big screen. We are soon informed that not only is the film a box-office hit, but it has also won the Oscar for best picture and screenplay. Some may accuse the filmmakers of hammering the point home a bit too much, yet for me, its not far from being on target with regards to the kind of schlock that ends up triumphing at the box office these days.

The aspect of Idiocracy that comes across more chilling than funny is the unavoidable presence of big money corporations in this futuristic America. The film paints a society that is 100 percent susceptible to advertising, even going so far as to depict clothing with nothing but major logos and brands splashed all over them. Made in a pre-smartphone/tablet/app infested era, Idiocracy's vision of a future where people are slaves to companies and instant electronic gratification was eerily spot-on. Studio executives no doubt must have balked with concern at the collection of brand names spotlighted in the movie, some of which actually exist, yet Judge's film isn't a total indictment on those companies' practices as much as it is the public's unhealthy relationship with them.

Shot right here in Austin (though the city is virtually unrecognizable), Idiocracy has an undeniable hyper look to it with elaborate set pieces, flashy costumes and impressive special effects. In fact some of the more grand-scale sequences, such as the one featuring the tallest mountain of garbage ever seen on film, are so impressively done that the movie almost looks like it has the same price tag as an early Michael Bay movie.

Not many people knew about Idiocracy's existence before discovering it on DVD due to the studio's total mishandling of the project. After a few lackluster test screenings brought forth additional editing, Idiocracy received virtually no marketing whatsoever and was quietly given a very limited run in a few cities. Yet the film definitely earned the respect it should have upon its DVD release.

Idiocracy may not have been the hit Judge and Cohen had envisioned, but its message was enthusiastically received by those who saw it, while the film itself continues to be both an innovative comedy and a horror film featuring a reality I fear is closer than we think.

Where to watchIdiocracy is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.