Thursday, December 13, 2007

Movie Review by Alison Ross

Power to the Sheeple
by Alison Ross
There is something to be said for a movie that luxuriates in stupidity while at the same time eviscerating it. Indeed, pulling off such a dainty dichotomy requires a supple touch. Filmmaker and animator Mike Judge is just the artist to manage such a tricky task. His 1992 movie Office Space is an hysterical exercise in lampoonery that nonetheless manages to glory in the inane rituals it so caustically critiques. It has become a cult classic and mandates repeated viewings in order to fully assimilate its brilliance.
Idiocracy, Judge’s second feature film, is another movie that tempers smart, searing social commentary with moronic humor. Idiocracy, however, is not as vividly coherent as Office Space; it is a more jagged, jaded vision of an ailing American society.

In this scathing satire, the Pentagon uses Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute Rita (Maya Rudolph) as guinea pigs for a secret hibernation program in which they are to be frozen for a year. Things go awry, however, and the two end up being frozen for 500 years. The world they awaken to is a much dumber, crasser version of the America they initially inhabited.
In Judge’s darkly hilarious dystopia, trash piles up into menacing mountains, the government is corporate-sponsored and helmed by an assault-weapon fanatic and former pro-wrestler, and the people are all fat, lazy, violence-porn-junk-food addicts who mumble a barely intelligible redneck/gangsta slang/Valley Girl linguistic hybrid. Really, it’s just today’s America taken to its logical extremes, and that is what makes Idiocracy outstanding, if depressing, subversive satire.  

And perhaps this is why, not-so-ironically, the movie received limited release and therefore is not very well known -  20th Century Fox was reluctant to back such a pointed indictment of the vulgarities of a dumbed-down corporate culture.
One of the possible drawbacks of Idiocracy is its cheap sheen and cheesy special effects. It’s unclear whether the movie’s low-budget aura was intentional in order to heighten the realism, but either way, it’s a device that can potentially interfere with the overall enjoyment of the film. Perhaps, though, Judge would consider a slicker “look” to the film a sad concession to the ubiquitous high-budget special-effects-drenched Hollywood product.

 The plot is another possible pitfall of Idiocracy. Joe and Rita, who exemplify generic personae – one a blandly average citizen/soldier, the other a societal castoff, neither of them intellectual giants - discover upon thawing that they are the smartest people in America. This doesn’t exactly make for an inspiring storyline. To make matters murkier, while Joe’s character is adequately developed, Rita’s character is thinly drawn, as though prostitutes are merely hollow personalities, while the obverse tends to be true - certainly your stereotypical whore is more multi-dimensional than your stereotypical GI jock.
Of course, the redeeming factor is that the misadventures endured by stock characters Rita and Joe are savagely comical and carry a weirdly compelling misanthropic undercurrent, reflecting the director’s saturated rage at American’s mindless consumerism and vapid sociopolitical reality.

 As far as another perceived weakness, the story structure is wobbly in parts. In fact, the meandering plot at times even threatens to render impotent the scorching satirical scorn, but fortunately the movie is so goddamn good at wrenching out of us every last guffaw that the mockery is not too muddled by the unorthodox narrative.
And Judge’s ability to merge our sophomoric approach to sex with corporate supremacy is uncanny:  Customers can get hand-jobs at Starbucks; the most popular TV show is called, “Ow, My Balls,” and the most popular movie called “Ass”’; and there is a Masturbation Channel on cable.
Idiocracy makes very clear the sinister implications of Americans’ passive acquiescence to the corporate juggernaut. We live in vigorously anti- intellectual times, which celebrate stupidity and the tryanny of homogenization at every turn. And Idiocracy makes us aware of our complicity in our own zombification. Humans have potent intellectual potential, and yet often willfully squander it for cheap kicks, and Judge really seems to lament this fact.
Americans should be demanding economic equity, well-funded schools, and a truly free and progressive media – all of these things would make us more adroitly perceptive and radically resistant to corporatization – but instead we bask in idiocy, and become sharp, deserving targets for ruthless satire.

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