2/04/2008

DOUBLE FEATURE - Fast Food Nation / Idiocracy

ARCHIVE: from Idiot Ego Issue 3
(reprinted without permission)


Fast Food Nation was released in theaters last November, and it was gone faster than I can suck down a triple-thick milkshake. This is understandable. It's a tough sell: a fictionalized expose of the behind-the-scenes of the fast food industry, based on a real expose (the book by Eric Schlosser of the same name.) But Fast Food Nation is really more about the nation than it is about the fast food. It's about a nation choking on it's own corporations, the people who live in that nation, and the ways in which those people are (or aren't) involved. From the immigrant workers at the meat plant, to the kids at the registers and on the grills, up to their managers, all the way to the big shots in the conference rooms who market it, and a lot of people in between. It's Mickey's Hamburgers as a metaphor for the broken American dream.

The film meanders a lot (Linklater has an affinity and talent for the "vignette" style,) and it get's a little cameo crazy (Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, and Avril Lavigne (?) turn up in supporting roles,) but the stories are told successfully and movingly. It's bleak, it's human, and it's probably more true than we know, but it's never preachy. Fast Food Nation doesn't tell you what to think, and it doesn't try to lay a guilt trip on you. It's every bit as interesting, thought-provoking and worthwhile as Linklater's popular Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly, but unfortunately, without the trippy animation style that helped those films pull in viewers, it will most likely remain comparatively underseen.

Now, lets flash-forward 500 years..

Idiocracy is one of the most improbable movies you will ever see. How improbable? Well, I'll tell you. The year is 2505. The world has hilariously and horrifyingly gone to shit. The water fountains all pump an energy drink called Brawndo (The Thirst Mutilator!), the top rated show on TV is called "Ow! My Balls!" and the president is a former pro wrestler and pornstar who carries a machine gun. Joe Bauers is there (Luke Wilson,) but he's from our present day. Never mind how he got there. In 2005 he was just an average, innocently likeable loser. But by 2505 standards, he's a fucking genius.



If this movie doesn't sound condescending and borderline assholish yet, I promise you it is. The title alone practically screams of self-importance and superiority. Idiocracy takes the corporate greed and lazy American complacency of Fast Food Nation and exploits it all the way to it's furthest comedic end. The movie is by Mike Judge, who made Office Space seven years ago, and has done little since except quietly sit back and watch that film mutate from a box office flop, to a hit on video, to the classic of American comedy that it is today. Idiocracy is co-written by Etan Cohen, Judge's cohort from the Beavis and Butthead days, and it shows. It often feels like an unnatural hybrid of that shows crudeness and the comparitively sophisticated humor of Office Space.

The result of this hybrid is way weird, and like I said, improbable. The direction is heavy handed, and the constant voice over is annoying and completely unnecessary. But somehow the end result is likeable, fun, and at times extremely funny. This is a movie worth seeing, and supporting. A popcorn movie for all us pseudo-intellectuals, Idiocracy lets you laugh at the shameful ignorance of this future world, while it not-so-subtly suggests that we may not be very far from it right now. Luke Wilson again demonstrates the scrutiny in choosing projects that his brother Owen lacks (see You, Me and Dupree, Night at the Museum) and Judge rewards him with an unchallenging role that he probably could have played in his sleep.

Still though, a nagging question remains: can you make a dumbed-down movie about the dumbing down of America which asks it's audience to laugh at the same dumbed-down humor that it seemingly chastises? Apparently you can, but it takes balls. From the film maker, from the viewer, and from the studio. Judge held up his end, but Fox bailed on him. The movie got shelved for almost two years, until it was finally released to a whopping 125 theaters nationwide, with no promotion and in an obviously studio-edited version (a fate all too similar to the theatrical release of Office Space, also produced by Fox.) The DVD does not include any additional footage, and Judge is conspicuously absent from the already skimpy bonus features. Thus, it's easy to see what happened here. You can only get kicked in the balls by the same people so many times before it's time to turn away from them for good. Stay away from those damned studios, Mr. Judge. They're no good for you. But keep making movies that tell us how stupid we are. Otherwise, apparently, the world is doomed.

1 comment:

Patrick Roberts said...

just saw Fast Food Nation, it's an impactful flick to say the least... earlier today i passed up a sausage mcmuffin because of it. Evidently it is worth passing up fast food for more than health reasons.