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Office space on Planet Butthead

by Glen Baity

TPS reports. The O-Face. The Bobs. Jump to Conclusions. The Red Swingline Stapler. Flair.

You know what I’m talking about, and here’s why: Over the past eight years, Office Space has become the most universally-watched and rewatched film of all time.

Granted, I don’t know this for a fact, but doesn’t it just seem true? Seriously, do you know a single person who can’t quote that movie front to back?

So why, why, why, after watching the fan base for that little film erupt, wouldn’t Fox Studios put writer/director Mike Judge’s Idiocracy on 3,000 screens and subtitle it “from the creator of Office Space”?

If anyone knows why that didn’t happen, they’re not talking, but someone at the company must have absolutely hated this movie.

Instead of the welcome wagon it deserved, the film got an extremely limited theatrical run a few months back, after which it was unceremoniously dumped onto home video two weeks ago. Consequently, the majority of people who’ve ever done a Bill Lumberg impression have never even heard of it.

That’s something I aim to correct through this Flicks column. I love going to the movies, and I would’ve loved to have seen Idiocracy with an audience, but that won’t happen anytime soon, so just this once, you and I are going to talk about the next movie you’ll be telling all your friends to rent. Now available in stores, Idiocracy, even if it’s not as ultimately successful as its flourescent-washed predecessor and soulmate, is just as worthy of that same cult following which eventually grew to include everyone in the known universe.

The film tells the story of Pvt. Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), distinguished among his contemporaries as the Most Average Man in the World. Thoroughly unimpressive in every way, the military records clerk is tapped to be a part of an experiment that could, in future years, allow the Army to cryogenically freeze its best men until a time of national crisis. Mere days after Joe’s hibernation chamber is closed, however, the program is disbanded, and the slumbering Everyman is discarded at the bottom of a growing garbage pile that will eventually reach the height of a skyscraper.

Flash forward 500 years. As intelligent people procreate less and less, the average IQ plummets until the nation’s idiots become the majority. Joe wakes up to a world in which the inmates run the asylum. He’s the only person who speaks in complete sentences, or prefers water to Gatorade, both prosecutable offenses in the year 2505.

Idiocracy plays on the evergreen ‘surrounded-by-idiots’ ethos, predicated on the notion that modern humanity is headed irrevocably in the wrong direction. It’s a dangerous thing, painting with this broad a brush, but Judge’s approach is so over-the-top it’s hard to be terribly offended. The film is actually the inverse of “Beavis and Butthead”: Instead of sticking close to the biggest morons in a relatively normal world, Judge follows the last normal man as he navigates a future of staggering stupidity.

How stupid? The most-watched TV show on “The Violence Channel” is a little sitcom called “Ow! My Balls!” The highest-grossing film of the year is called Ass (you can guess what that’s about). The same sports drink dispensed from every water fountain has also been used to water the nation’s crops, because “it’s got electrolytes.” So the future is a bit of a dust bowl.

And on and on and on.

After honing his craft on smart satire like “King of the Hill,” Judge writes idiots better than anyone (ironically, because he’s devoted so much of his career to writing about idiots, the underlying intelligence, evident even in “Beavis and Butthead,” goes widely unnoticed).

The reason everything Judge does eventually finds a devoted audience is that it taps into a feeling most people have, if not every day, then at least several times a week. Be honest – no matter how many smart people you actually know, don’t you sometimes, in your weaker moments, feel overwhelmed? Like you’re just suffering the thankless task of making sure our cultural lowest common denominator doesn’t choke on its own hair? Teachers, I’m looking at you.

Idiocracy offers a wicked, temporary indulgence of that feeling. Wilson is great as the flabbergasted modern man, and “Saturday Night Live”‘s Maya Rudolph is an excellent comic foil as his civilian female counterpart. The film looks like its budget was slashed midway through production, and the resultant cheesy visuals actually help the final product achieve its goal of portraying a future reached by cutting every available corner.

And as unhealthy as it might be to indulge the fantasy that you’re smarter than everyone else, consider the fact that this film, one of the best comedies in recent memory, languished in oblivion for more than a year. Meanwhile, pandering dreck like this week’s Epic Movie has all the studio support it needs. So consider taking a week off from the cinema and send a message with your dollar when you pick up this DVD: Tell ’em you don’t want to laugh with idiots. You want to laugh at them. The future of the human race depends on it.

E-mail your comments to glen.baity@gmail.com. He’s got electrolytes!

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