Mike Judge might be the most important culture commentator of our generation. That may sound like hyperbole, very similar to how some of his material comes across, but I think it’s accurate to a point. Mike Judge has been prolific on big and small screen sending up some of America’s most sacred cows and making very coy observations about how we live our lives. As the kids today would say, he is very meta.
We aren’t going to look at his most famous film, Office Space, or his most disappointing, Extract. We are going to look at a film that has some of the best and worst of Mike Judge: Idiocracy. This film swings from some absurd and goofy set pieces to some scary and quite possible predictions of our future. Most of what Mike Judge portends in this film will probably never happen but some of it we can see starting even now.
The movie’s premise is pretty basic in most respects: two US Army experiment subjects go into suspended animation for 500 years because of some US Army bureaucratic and political fumbling. The story is your typical fish out of water as Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph explore this new reality that is the future. Mike Judge’s version of the future is Fischer Price minds and Nautilus bodies.
The movie itself isn’t very remarkable outside of Mike Judge’s predictions of future America. The small budget, under 2 million dollars, shows everywhere throughout the film. From the homeless looking extras to the very cheap matte paintings that litter the film, you can tell they tried to make that cash stretch. The performances aren’t anything special and the direction and writing is probably its strongest attribute.
The reason I’m reviewing this movie, and the reason I think it’s an important film, is what the message Mike Judge is trying to give the viewer. That message is that our obsession with sophomoric people, ideas, and culture is going to slowly degrade our country. I don’t think the future is as bleak as Mike Judge envisages, but he definitely makes some salient points.
I believe one important message Mike Judge gives is how our political process will turn into a reality TV show. We can slowly see that happening with our political campaigns and 24/7 news cycle. There are recording devices everywhere so our politicians have to constantly be entertaining the public somehow. This is probably most evident when we see that the POTUS is a former wrestler played by Terry Crews.
You can tell Terry Crews is having fun with the role and he gives it all. He travels the country on a huge motor trike and carries around machine guns that are smaller than his bicep ‘guns’ which makes him the perfect presidential material. He loves American and will kill anyone that says otherwise. He of course is black because any movie about the future always has a black president.
The movie also depicts courtrooms as a place where due process is just for show. Stephen Root’s court room makes Judge Judy’s program look like a church meeting. He of course has a comical large gavel and the jury is shouting guilty before the trial even begins. After Luke Wilson is found guilty he ends up in a gladiatorial arena with phallic monster trucks. This is the part of the movie where it kind of goes off the deep end.
I think the strongest commentary, and the MacGuffin Mike Judge uses to get Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph’s character out of hot water, is the food shortage. A Gatorade-like company has convinced the entire country that it’s better than water, which today’s Gatorade advertising would like you to believe, thus all water is now Brawndo. Following this logic they try to water crops with this stuff.
To me this is the most poignant point made in the whole movie. This company has buffaloed the government and the people so hard that it defies science and logic. It could almost draw corollaries to how Ronald Reagan made ketchup a vegetable so it would meet the requirements for school lunches. It might seem implausible but having Diet Coke as a water alternative doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Overall, this film is something you watch once and tell your friends to watch so you can comment on the commentary (which is very meta just like this movie). It’s an amusing movie but there is a reason why it failed at the box office like Office Space. Doing dark comedy can be hard when the comedy is too dark or to real.