The Films of Mike Judge
Idiocracy (September 1/06)
Coming seven long years after the release of Office Space, Mike Judge's beloved 1999 comedy, Idiocracy can't help but come off as something of a disappointment. Though it's consistently entertaining and sporadically hilarious, the film's increasingly uneven structure and overall vibe of silliness becomes more of a hindrance than anything else. The storyline revolves around an average American (played by Luke Wilson) who is propelled more than 500 years into the future, where he discovers that the population has grown stupid to such an extent that he's now considered the smartest man alive. As expected, Judge has infused Idiocracy with a bundle of satirical elements - ie the most popular film in the country is Ass (which, true to its title, consists solely of a 90-minute static shot of a guy's ass) - and generally pokes fun at the dumbing down of popular culture in America. Wilson effectively steps into the shoes of a befuddled everyman, while a cavalcade of familiar faces pop up in fun cameo roles (Stephen Root, who played Office Space's relentlessly put-upon Milton, has a brief but memorable role as a hillbilly judge). But the inclusion of an overly action-oriented third act leaves the film with a fairly bitter aftertaste, and the whole thing just never quite becomes anything more than a passable time-waster (albeit one with tremendous cult potential). That being said, Idiocracy is certainly no worse than most of the comedies that have emerged as of late (including Wilson's own My Super Ex-Girlfriend) and one can't help but wonder why Fox has so unceremoniously dumped the movie into selected theaters.
Mike Judge's third film, Extract follows affable everyman Joel (Jason Bateman) as he is forced to confront a series of increasingly confounding situations - including an obnoxious neighbor (David Koechner's Nathan), a cheating wife (Kristen Wiig's Suzie), and a sly scam artist (Mila Kunis' Cindy). There's little doubt that Extract marks Judge's attempt at moving beyond the cult reputation of his first two endeavors, as the movie ultimately comes off as a far more mainstream piece of work than 1999's Office Space and 2006's Idiocracy - with the almost total lack of satirical elements effectively separating the film from its less-than-successful predecessors. Instead, Judge offers up an affable comedy that benefits substantially from a uniformly impressive cast and the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud interludes. The proliferation of agreeable attributes inevitably makes it easy enough to overlook Extract's less-than-enthralling storyline, as writer/director Judge structures the movie as a series of loosely-connected comic set pieces - which effectively does ensure that certain stretches inevitably fare better than others. Bateman's expectedly engaging performance is matched by his various costars, with Ben Affleck's work as Joel's sleazy pal undoubtedly standing as a highlight within the proceedings (and, of course, J.K. Simmons turns in another in a long line of scene-stealing appearances as Joel's cranky right-hand man). The end result is an enjoyably low-key effort that does feel right at home within Judge's off-kilter universe, although the edge with which the filmmaker infused his first two features is undoubtedly missed here.