Sunday, March 8, 2015

Movie #302: Idiocracy

Idiocracy is a dark comedy directed by Mike Judge and starring Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepherd, Terry Crews, and with some cameos (Stephen Root, Thomas Hayden Church, probably some others). It's funny in places, but also problematic as shit.

Basic premise: Smart people aren't having kids to the same degree that stupid people are. This has the effect of lowering the median IQ (worldwide, apparently, which is weird, but I'll get to that), Meanwhile, a totally average, middle-of-the-road schlub named Joe (Wilson) gets assigned to an Army experiment to put him into cryogenic stasis for a year, to test the program for use with more useful people. The Army also wants a female guinea pig, but can't find an average woman in the Army. So they settle for a prostitute named Rita (Rudolph), loaned to the army by her pimp, Upgrayedd (Scarface).

An aside, here: It also confused me that the Army couldn't find a suitable female candidate, and more to the point, I wondered what conclusion the audience was supposed to draw. That all women in the Army were exceptional and superior? That's sweet, if a little patronizing. That there aren't enough women in the Army to provide a good enough sample to work from? In-story, it's just an elaborate set-up for the female test subject to a prostitute, but that storyline never really goes anywhere. I mean, there's this running joke that Joe thinks Rita is a painter, and we get to see her freaking out about her pimp, but it doesn't really mean anything in the context of the movie aside from some hooker jokes.

This is mean, but you know what I think? I think the screenwriters (Judge and Etan Cohen, not Ethan Cohen, obviously) had no idea how to write an "average" woman. Their conception of an "average" guy is very much like Luke Wilson - white, not unattractive but not impressive, either, not dumb but not terrible educated (we'll come back to that, too). You know, just a guy. The default. But since they're both kind of hacks (sorry, Judge, I know a lot of people thought Beavis & Butthead was some kind of fucking cultural touchstone, but mostly it's what made the 90s suck), they couldn't think of a woman character, so they just wrote a stock "hooker" template. For what it's worth, Rudolph does a pretty good job with the material.

Anyway, due to the Army dude in charge being involved in a prostitution ring, the whole project gets scrapped but the people forgotten, and they wake up 500 years later. The world has gotten so dumb that the average person's intelligence is, like really dumb, right? And the world is in crisis because they water their plants with a sports drink. Anything remotely literate is decried as "faggy", and (here's my favorite) the English language has (hang on, I'll quote it) "deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner city, and various grunts."

So, Joe goes through various trials and tribulations, but winds up Secretary of Interior because an IQ test reveals him to be the smartest person alive. Appointed to the position by President Camacho (Crews), he comes up with the brilliant idea to water plants with water, which, eventually, causes them to grow, and things start to turn around. The movie ends on a bleak note; Joe and Rita marry and have three very intelligent children (you know, by comparison). Joe's lawyer and companion, Frito Pendejo (Shepherd), has 32 extremely stupid kids.

Wow. So, first off, the movie is funny in places. I'll give it that. The over-the-top depictions of the world, and some of the little touches ("St. God's Memorial Hospital") are clever, and honestly, it's easy to see the descendants of reality TV and some of the other dumb facets of our present culture. But the whole premise of the movie is...difficult. The smart people at the beginning of the movie (who aren't breeding) are obviously wealthy. The dumb people (breeding like crazy) are poor, and, based on their accents, Southern. The depictions of the idiot descendants of mankind later in the movie take a lot of their cultural cues from lower socio-economic status folks, and in particular it's hard to ignore the "deterioration" of the English language as including mostly "hillbilly" (Southern/redneck) and "inner city" (black/Hispanic). No one speak "valley girl" is ever depicted.

And where the hell is the rest of the world, here? Did everyone in the world become stupid? There's no army picture (except the Guitar Army), and the police are well armed but completely incompetent. It's easy to picture another, smarter, more civilized country (like, say, Luxembourg) rolling in and taking over.

All in all, it's got some funny bits, but it gets more uncomfortable every time I see it because it's such a white-guy understanding of concepts like "intelligence", "language" and "society." Bleah.

My grade: C-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: It's a Wonderful Life