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Idiocracy (2006)
Director: Mike Judge

review by Christopher Geary
Spoiler Alert!
'Average' Joe (Luke Wilson) is a regular American soldier just biding his time with office duties, until his latest assignment finds him being used as a scientific test subject in the military's top-secret hibernation project. But the government buries this experiment and the perfectly preserved Joe doesn't wake up until 2505, when a combination of runaway consumerism, downmarket media programming, and several generations of falling educational standards have resulted in a future where the bewildered Joe is now the smartest man alive, and therefore obviously destined to become the next US President...

This scenario must be Buck Rogers' worst nightmare. Going much further down the slippery slope of genre spoofing than Woody Allen's classic Sleeper (1973), the gentle moral schooling of W.D. Richter's criminally overlooked Late For Dinner (1991), or Rob Grant's bureaucracy lampooning novel Incompetence (2003), this film is actually so scathing in its attack on the state of US politics, and American culture and society, that studio 20th Century Fox clearly had no idea how they could sell the finished product to dead-eyed cinema audiences that are the main target of its deliberately unsubtle jokes. Idiocracy hurls a ferocious broadside against the real world's increasingly malign trivialisation of 'free speech' in the western democracies, where empty rhetoric has superseded freethinking imagination, rigorous criticism of religious piety is frowned upon to the very point of intolerance, and the murmuring sound of intellectual debate is simply condemned or rejected as secular elitism.

Not unlike Sam Lowry, in Terry Gilliam's magnificent Brazil (1985), the ordinary Joe of Idiocracy is very much an everyman struggling to make sense of a world that both needs him - desperately - and yet, ironically, can find no place for him (at first) in the grand scheme of things. The fact is that, like much postmodern and supposedly prophetic sci-fi, the 500-years-hence 'future' extrapolated for Idiocracy is perilously close to the present, quite terrifyingly familiar, state of things. Am I ranting or exaggerating here? Well, probably... However, before the socio-political message of Idiocracy is dismissed outright as scare mongering lunacy, we should be willing to ask the hard question: how much longer can other industrially developed nations tolerate a super-power America (and its satellite pawns like the UK) that really is blatantly fostering a society of imbeciles permitted to believe - amongst other idiocies - that our planet is no more than a few thousand years old (a ridiculous belief maintained by religious preaching despite over a century's accumulated scientific evidence to the contrary)? Must we have the 'Scopes monkey trial' all over again?

What's particularly depressing about Idiocracy is that it's a satirical farce suggesting its warning message can only be delivered if hidden beneath the safe and comforting guise of raucous comedy. This particular observation hints at the underlying tragedy of Idiocracy. Belly laughs aside, it's a genuinely cheerless and despairingly sad little story. Rather more so than the anti-censorship tirade lurking behind the likes of the 'politically correct' US dystopia of Demolition Man (1993), where Sylvester Stallone's resurrected police-brute is repeatedly and automatically fined for swearing in public, Idiocracy gleefully trashes each and every knuckle-dragging level and Mickey Mouse section of American society, most tellingly represented in Mike Judge's movie by moronic lawyer Frito (Dax Sheperd), nestled happily in the comicbook styled, eternal infancy of the armchair-toilet facing his giant TV screens. After the grimly hilarious climax, Joe and Frito have a dialogue scene to show neither of them comprehends, except vaguely, the science fictional concept of time-travel paradox. The film is saying: identify with these characters at your peril!

Yes, of course, we can snigger knowingly at Idiocracy for its astute lambasting of the swaggering cult of personality that seems to have run White House policy ever since the prematurely senile Ronald Reagan took office. We can point and chuckle at lame-brained hero Joe's struggling attempts to survive compulsory 'rehab' punishment in the gladiatorial arena - in vehicular combat against 'Beef Supreme' (Andrew Wilson, Luke's older brother). There's even some limited amusement to be derived from the film's lacklustre happy ending, as honest yet clueless Joe (a fusion of Clark Kent and Forrest Gump?) saves everyone - from the likelihood of starvation - by proving that plants need water to grow. But, honestly, the real world situation is far beyond a joke now. Much as I like having a good chinwag and putting the world to rights, I haven't got the answers, and I suspect they won't be found easily. What's abundantly clear, though, is that any solutions to the world's numerous problems will, as Idiocracy asserts, have something to do with education, education, education...
Idiocracy

presidential motorcade has changed a bit

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