A long-shelved, not-screened-for-critics, high-concept science-fiction comedy that's being released in a handful of cities with all the fanfare of a CIA black-ops mission, Idiocracy gives viewers many reasons to be suspicious. But before dismissing it sight unseen, it's worth remembering that Mike Judge's last film, 1999's Office Space, was released to groaning indifference, only to become a cult classic, and that Idiocracy is an unrepentant satire, a genre George S. Kaufman famously defined as "what closes Saturday night." Idiocracy feels more like a Beavis And Butt-head follow-up than an Office Space follower, thanks to its depiction of a society devolving at a rapid clip, and the way it satirizes its instant-gratification-obsessed target audience using the limited vocabulary of the terminally stupid.
In Beavis And Butt-head, that devolution is just suggested; in Idiocracy, it's made dizzyingly literal. A perfectly cast Luke Wilson stars as a quintessential everyman who hibernates for centuries and wakes up in a society so degraded by insipid popular culture, crass consumerism, and rampant anti-intellectualism that he qualifies as the smartest man in the world. Corporations cater even more unashamedly to the primal needs of the lowest common denominator—Starbucks now traffics in handjobs as well as lattes—and the English language has devolved into a hilarious patois of hillbilly, Ebonics, and slang.
Idiocracy's dumb-ass dystopia suggests a world designed by Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, a world where the entire populace skirts the fine line separating mildly retarded from really fucking stupid, and where anyone displaying any sign of intelligence is derided as a fag. Working on a sprawling canvas, Judge fills the screen with visual jokes, throwaway gags, and incisive commentary on the ubiquity of advertising—for instance, with the presidential-cabinet member who works paid plugs for Carl's Jr. into everyday conversations. Like so much superior science fiction, Idiocracy uses a fantastical future to comment on a present in which Paris Hilton is infinitely more famous than Nobel laureates. There's a good chance that Judge's smartly lowbrow Idiocracy will be mistaken for what it's satirizing, but good satire always runs the risk—to borrow a phrase from a poster-boy for the reverse meritocracy—of being misunderestimated.