Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 31 October 2007

Frequently studios will let films die for want of promotion. Often they will be contractually tied into a production that does not fit into their wider marketing plan or that internal politics has rendered unpopular. However, it is rare to find a film left to die for its external politics, for what it says about society as a whole. Such occurrences are largely limited to issues of external pressure such as censorship or the work of totalitarian regimes. With Michael Judge’s ‘Idiocracy’, however, much of the evidence points to the creation of a film that left a devastatingly bad taste in the mouth of corporate America, and certainly that part of corporate America responsible for its production and tasked with its promotion.

The stage is perhaps set for some grand-standing defence of a work of great integrity. A documentary perhaps or a damning biopic. The film in question however is a rather rambling and slapdash attempt at satire from the creator of ‘Beavis and Butthead’. It’s certainly not a radical masterpiece, and doesn’t really say anything new. However, it’s utter contempt for trends evident in contemporary American popular culture is pretty uncompromising, and while the film lacks narrative drive and is not uproariously funny it is certainly angry.

The anger is directed at a country which, in Judge’s eyes, promotes passivity and complacency thus leading to nationwide imbecility, and which falls victim to a birth trend favouring rednecks over professionals. This latter part forms the basis of one of the film’s funnier jokes, but also exposes the film’s key flaw – an unwillingness to ascribe any blame to the governing forces of America for denying opportunities or assistance to the majority of its population. That said the aim of the movie is not to create a dystopia of the many ruled by the scheming intellects of a few powerful oligarchs. In Judge’s America, by the year 2500 everyone in America is an idiot from the former-wrestler turned president, to the Secretary of State who won his job in a competition to the state-appointed attorney who went to school at Costco. In a jibe at an increasingly automated society computers run everything, with people reduced to sitting around watching ‘Ow my Balls’ on TV or going to the cinema for the multiple-award-winning ‘Ass’ – ninety minutes footage of, well, an ass.

Into this world comes Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), the most average man in today’s U.S. army conscripted into a cryogenics experiment gone awry and Rita (Maya Rudolph) a prostitute who makes up the army’s other guinea pig. The 100 I.Q. Bauers is now the smartest man in the world but has to survive in a land where everyone thinks he ‘talks like a fag.’

There is little of surprise here, save the sheer anger of a film that presents the 26th century version of Starbucks as offering manual relief with its lattes and the slogan for burger joint Carls Jr as having gone from ‘Don’t Bother Me. I’m Eating’ to ‘F*ck You! I’m Eating!’ The jokes are pretty funny in places, but despite being short (at 85 minutes) the story manages to outlive its welcome.

However, this is a film that should be supported, primarily because it seems to have been hung out to dry by its backers. Amazingly, the project was realised by 20th Century Fox, but that seems to have been the limit of their interest. No trailer was released, no press screenings were held (to date, very few actual reviews have been published) and the film itself was released in fewer than 150 cinemas across America. Judge doesn’t hesitate to bite the hand that feeds him – at one point Fox News is portrayed as presented by topless, muscle-bound actors – but the studio itself escapes pretty lightly.

However, the film does relentlessly attack everything which has, effectively, made media conglomerates like Fox such a powerful force in contemporary America. It is to be hoped that the commercial murder of this film came about in some less sinister way – perhaps as a result of a falling out which left Fox willing only to fulfil the barest necessities of its contractual obligations. However, in today’s world it would be foolish to rule out a move of such corporate self-interest, no matter how cynical the move may appear or paranoid the suspicions might seem.

The truth is that ‘Idiocracy’ is a film to the upper end of mediocre. It’s funny in parts, especially towards the beginning, but the humour swiftly drains away and, ironically, the film succumbs to a Hollywood-style happy ending (though not of the sort served in the Starbucks in ‘Idiocracy’). However it’s a voice of dissent, and for that reason alone any attempt to make it disappear should be resisted.

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By Stephen Lavington

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