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In the fall of 2006, 20th Century Fox unceremoniously dumped Mike Judge’s latest film, “Idiocracy,” on a measly 130 screens, purely to meet contractual obligations. The box office returns were low and the critical reaction was middling. I happened to see the film in its first weekend, and by the end of Officer Collins’ investigative slideshow into the world of a “pimp’s love,” I was laughing so hard that the emptiness of the rest of the theater faded away. Comedies tend to thrive in packed houses full of excited filmgoers, but parts of “Idiocracy” played just as well with an audience of five people.

Mike Judge’s “Office Space” was a sharp, biting, but ultimately humanistic satire of the American workplace. His follow-up turned out to be something else entirely. “Idiocracy” is a bizarre, futuristic spin on the dumbing down of American society – a time in which “Ow My Balls!” is the highest rated show on television, the government is “brought to you” by Carl’s Jr., and the President is a machine gun-toting ex-professional wrestler.

The cast isn’t exactly teeming with movie stars and the screenplay is a dedicated exercise in absurdity, so it’s easy to see why Fox didn’t believe in the film. It shouldn’t work. It’s ugly and weird and occasionally condescending. The lead character, Joe (Luke Wilson), is literally the most average man on the planet, but he’s one of just two characters who isn’t a blithering idiot. On paper, a film stocked with such strikingly stupid characters would have “grating” written all over it. Maya Rudolph and Dax Shepard mostly meander through their supporting roles and the narrative goes off track near the 60-minute mark, never really righting itself.

Amazingly, Mike Judge fashioned all of these anomalous components into a remarkably funny, creative comedy. The film is completely unique and its sci-fi bent is fully realized in a way that some sci-fi films fail to capture. As President Camacho, Terry Crews steals every scene he’s in, and the fictional sports drink, “Brawndo,” has since become an actual sports drink thanks to the ultimate success of the film on DVD.

The case of “Idiocracy” demonstrates that original, quality filmmaking usually finds its audience. In 2006, DVD was the only avenue for this particular film, but in the years since, our ability to track down smaller films has increased tenfold. “Idiocracy” isn’t high art – in fact, that’s the point – but its slow-building success gives me faith in audiences and their increasing thirst for films that aren’t sequels, remakes, or adaptations of books and TV shows. Although it may be in short supply, inventiveness is still alive and well in Hollywood, and it always will be – as long as audiences demand it.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: September 1, 2006 (Limited)
Director: Mike Judge
Screenwriter: Mike Judge, Etan Cohen
Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, David Herman, Sara Rue, Stephen Root, Justin Long
MPAA Rating: R (for language and sex-related humor)