Like everyone, I kept hearing how good this movie was, even showing up in some best-of-the-year lists when it wasn’t even released. The deal is that Mike Judge of Office Space and Beavis and Butthead had made this satire of how dumb Americans are, but that Fox thought Americans were too dumb to get it, so they held on to it for two years and are now just dumping it out on DVD with no fanfare. So, the movie about a dumb America that America is too dumb to see! Who could resist that?
Obviously not me. So I Netflix it the moment it’s available, and surprisingly, I get it. The movie begins with this while narration a showing a white yuppie couple waiting years and finally failing to have kids, while this redneck keeps pumping out babies. I described this scenario to my friend, and he said “it sounds pretty racist,” but looking back, the movie cannily avoids this by simply having it be a white redneck who's fathering all these babies.
So back in the near future, Luke Wilson as Joe gets frozen in this time capsule. He is chosen because he is average in everything, including intelligence, and has no family. Frozen with him is Maya Rudolph as Rita, a prostitute. There’s an amusing aside about how this nerdy white male scientist becomes a slave bitch for her pimp, Upgrayydde.
So they’re both frozen, but the research facility they’re in is closed down to become a casual dining establishment, and they are forgotten as society moves on. They sleep 500 years, as mankind’s intelligence slowly drops. Then they are released on 2505 during the great garbage avalanche, wherein all the garbage, “that was piled and piled for years and years, with no plan whatsoever” topples over and sweeps through the streets. Joe is dumped into the apartment of Dax Shepard as Frito, who is watching a special edition of “Ow My Balls,” in which guys get pounded in the balls over and over. Joe walks around the future city. He finds that the top movie everywhere is “Ass,” which is a continuous shot of an ass as it farts. All water everywhere, including in irrigation, has been replaced by a Gatorade-like sports drink called Brawndo. It is better than water, because it has electrolytes. He sees sight gags like the one below.
The economy has collapsed, and thus nothing is taken care of anymore. The cities have slowly fallen apart and no one has the money to clean them up or do anything about the numerous calamities around. Joe goes to the hospital to find out if he’s okay, but when he tries to speak to anyone, they are all so dumb that he sounds pretentious and “faggy.” He is put in a health care line and told to shove a sensor up his ass, which he is uncomfortable with, while the people in line behind him start going “Come ON! Hurry UP, asshole!” He tries to speak sensibly to the doctor, played by Justin Long of Jeepers Creepers fame, saying “I need you to be serious for a second here,” causing the doctor to say “There’s that fag talk again.”
What do we think about all this "fag talk?" Well, I guess if gays are seen as the smart and cultured ones, if a bit pedantic and snooty, there are worse things.
Anyway, there’s a plot, but I won’t even bother going into it too much, because it’s definitely not what the movie’s about. Joe goes outside and sees an electronic billboard that says “If you don’t more Tarrlytons—Fuck you!” Soon after that is a vending machine that takes custody of a customer’s children. Fuddrucker’s restaurant has become Butt-Fuckers. The government understands Joe’s name to be “Not Sure” because the voice-activated computer naming program goes so quickly and doesn’t allow for any variation.
Anyway, so Joe escapes and finds Rita, who quickly berates him for making her get in “some tricked-out Army coffin.” I also laughed long and hard when the naïve Joe doesn’t understand that Rita is a prostitute, but a painter, and he asks her what she paints: “People and fruit and shit.”
They go to Costco for some reason, which is now so large it extends endlessly into the distance. Inside, the greeter says “Welcome to Costco. I love you.” One of the more memorable visuals in this movie was of them walking through super-high aisles of merchandise, with a downed jet still lying wrecked in the store in the distance. No one had the money to fix it. Anyway, this whole time they’re looking for the Time Machine, although you wonder what a good idea it is to trust Frito to know what Joe really means by that anyway. Visual jokes continue; a sign for H&R Block’s “Adult” Tax Return, home of the “gentleman’s rebate.” Another of my favorites is the busty silhouette from a truck’s flap on top of a toilet to symbolize the ladies’ room.
So Joe meets the president, a former porn star and pro-wrestler. He tells the country “Listen, I know everyone’s shit’s real emotional right now,” but that Joe is here, and he’s the smartest guy on the planet, and he’s going to fix the economy and the dust storms—in one week. I won’t tell you what happens—there’s not that many surprises here anyway—but unfortunately part of his plan hurts consumer sales and causes “the computer to do that auto-lay-off thing.” We later see a futuristic monster truck rally, where machine with names such as “The Assdozer” have turrets that look like… well, giant cocks.
I like a good laugh at dumb people’s expense. I don’t care how it’s “elitist” or “smug,” I am almost always up for it. So I was prepared to like this movie, and did like it, although ultimately it’s just all kind of slight. They have to invent some kind of plot for Joe to go through, and there have to be ups and downs and tragedies and triumphs, although what you really want to see is JUST them making fun of stupid people.
What this film has that I was delighted to see and did NOT expect was a large-scale sci-fi vision of a dystopian future. Really, you can hardly say the words “dystopian future” without a smile creeping across my face, but the whole concept that America ran down simply because things are poorly made and managed and once they went wrong there simply wasn’t enough money to fix them rang very true with me [it is also a comic version of a similar bleak future to Children of Men, and is almost exactly the vision of the future seen in WALL-E], and the movie had great, evocative visuals to support it. I swear, there are more matte paintings in this movie than I’ve seen in a long while and—everyone loves matte paintings! Furthermore, many of them are very evocative—look at the comments for this movie on the IMDb and note how many mention the downed jet in Costco, even though it appears for at most two seconds in the background and is never commented upon. I guess downed jets really do symbolize the breakdown of society, as we first learned in the Japanese Pulse.
The actors are fine, with Rudolph being a particular delight as Rita, but I suspect that’s mostly because her part was a pleasant surprise. But the problem with this kind of movie is that really all anyone wants to see is the humorous critique of how dumb society has become, but you have to have a story, or the movie seems shapeless and pointless. So it’s in a bit of a bind: the more story you have the more you’re deviating from the point [not to mention that almost any story is going to be boring compared to the sharp and quick social commentary], but if you don’t have a story the movie is just a set of vignettes and, because of its lack of shape, becomes forgettable. Both of these can be handled better [and I don’t know what how or if the studio mangled this thing trying to make it releasable], but here the inspiration just isn’t there. So it has several great moments and lots of terrific sight gags, but toward the end it just kind of drifts off and you’re just waiting for it to stop. Luckily, without too much fuss, it has the sense to do just that.
Sure, it’s always amusing to make fun of dumb people, and this movie may be cathartic if you are frustrated by the idiocy around you.