DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

IF there’s a DVD scream­ing out for a di­rec­tor’s com­men­tary, it is the new re­lease Idioc­racy . The latest com­edy from Mike Judge, cre­ator of Beavis and Butt- Head and King of the Hill and di­rec­tor of Of­fice Space, is a cracker, al­beit one that doesn’t quite be­come a clas­sic. It had greater am­bi­tion than bud­get.

Per­haps Judge’s com­men­tary would be as en­ter­tain­ing as the film, which shows he clearly has some archly satir­i­cal things to say about mod­ern Amer­ica. What he might have to say about the trou­bled life of his com­edy would surely be just as il­lu­mi­nat­ing.

Idioc­racy, which didn’t re­ceive a cin­ema re­lease here, was held from re­lease for a year and quickly dumped in the US af­ter its stu­dio, Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox ( owned by News Cor­po­ra­tion, which also owns News Lim­ited, pub­lisher of The Week­end Aus­tralian ), de­vel­oped sweaty palms. Re­port­edly it didn’t test well with re­search au­di­ences.

Lit­tle won­der. Judge’s ba­sic premise is that so­ci­ety, through time, doesn’t progress but that intelligence de­clines. The film’s with­er­ing and ques­tion­able open­ing ex­plains why: the stupid out­breed the smart.

So when Luke Wil­son’s char­ac­ter Joe, a bum­bling army bu­reau­crat se­lected for a cryo­gen­ics ex­per­i­ment ( it should have been a Dis­ney film) awakes in 2505, he is the smartest man on the planet. So smart, he’s elected to the US cabi­net.

You can un­der­stand why the film was a lit­tle too bit­ing for its stu­dio. Judge’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a world of butt- heads takes big shots at the au­di­ence the film would have played to: mid­dle Amer­ica.

Gen­er­ally, Judge shows con­tempt for pol­i­tics, moral stan­dards and the cap­i­tal­ism that en­cour­ages blind obe­di­ence. A sports drink has sup­planted wa­ter as the liq­uid of life be­cause ‘‘ It’s what plants crave!’’

And there’s plenty of fart jokes which, in this tale, be­come po­lit­i­cally rel­e­vant.

Judge is such a skilled ob­server that the con­tempt, while oc­ca­sion­ally nasty, is oh- so­funny, even if Idioc­racy doesn’t achieve the satir­i­cal suc­cess of Bo­rat: Cul­tural Learn­ings of Amer­ica for Make Ben­e­fit Glo­ri­ous Na­tion of Kaza­khstan. He’s adept at couch­ing high­brow state­ments in low- brow com­edy. Oc­ca­sion­ally puerile? Yes. Patchy? Yes. Worth view­ing? Yes.

Idioc­racy’s fu­ture as a cult DVD favourite is as­sured. Judge’s enig­matic ca­reer in cin­ema counts in the film’s favour.

Of­fice Space , his pre­vi­ous film com­edy, flopped on its cin­ema re­lease in 1999 but has be­come one of the true cult hits, and peren­nial sell­ers, of the DVD era.

Idioc­racy is not as well- pitched as that film, a com­edy that satirised of­fice cu­bi­cle cul­ture with a deft touch and ter­rific per­for­mances by Ron Liv­ingston, Gary Cole, Stephen Root and a younger Jen­nifer Anis­ton.

Idioc­racy ’ s leads, Wil­son and Satur­day Night Live ’ s Maya Ru­dolph, don’t re­ally know what to do as ev­ery­thing else — sup­ple­men­tary char­ac­ters, hi­lar­i­ous set de­sign and de­lib­er­ately hokey spe­cial ef­fects — over­shad­ows them. But the film’s rel­e­vance and com­men­tary is spot- on.

* * * DISC WATCH: Stranger Than Fiction ( Road­show, M, $ 29.99). Marc Forster is qui­etly be­com­ing one of cin­ema’s most in­ter­est­ing direc­tors. Af­ter Mon­ster’s Ball, Find­ing Nev­er­land and Stay , he man­ages to cor­ral a lik­able dra­matic per­for­mance from Will Fer­rell, re­cently im­mor­talised in Tal­ladega Nights: The Bal­lad of Ricky Bobby , up against Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoff­man. A smart, sweet and al­lur­ing movie. bodeym@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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