Saturday, March 03, 2007


Luke Wilson (right) finds that you can't grow crops with Gatorade in IDIOCRACY, the latest comedy from Mike Judge.

2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

I was eager to see this sci-fi comedy from Mike Judge (KING OF THE HILL, OFFICE SPACE) because I imagined myself in complete sympathy with its premise, so close to the bone that Fox withdrew it from theatrical release almost immediately. It depicts a dystopian future where everyone has become so stupid that the hottest movie around is called "ASS," a feature-length close-up of a bare and occasionally farting behind, which swept the Oscars, including the one for Best Screenplay. (This gag is symptomatic of what's right and wrong with the picture: one's reflex reaction is "Hey, don't give Eddie Murphy any ideas!"; on the other hand, ASS is not unlike some actual important films by Andy Warhol, so the humor doesn't linger or stand up to scrutiny if you're bright enough to know Warhol's work.) While IDIOCRACY pokes fun at symptoms already frightening apparent in our world today, it's not sharp or sharp-toothed enough to make for stinging satire, and its premise -- that intelligent people stopped reproducing while stupid "trailer trash" not only continued to reproduce but engage in unprotected sex willy-nilly with every hillbilly neighbor in sight -- makes stupidity seem a hereditary inevitability rather than an end result of today's willful dumbing-down of our culture.

Luke Wilson is likeable as the hero, an average G.I. Joe whose name actually is Joe, who is recruited along with an equally average prostitute (Maya Rudolph) to spend a year asleep in a Rip Van Winkle experiment, only to awaken through some ill-explained mishap in the year 2505. (I don't get the joke of why the only average woman the Army could find is a prostitute, unless she's intended as an illustration of the "stupid" impulse to fornicate with everyone in sight, balanced with the "smarts" to at least want to turn a profit on it.) In 2505, everyone's a blathering headbanging moron, entranced by explosions and slapstick comedy (the #1 TV show is called OW! MY BALLS!, which is pretty self-explanatory), named after the products bombarding them in advertising from every direction -- so, naturally, it takes Joe awhile to figure out that he's no longer in his own time. The premise is all the movie has going for it, and everything that happens after Joe wises up to his predicament stacks a lot of deadweight onto the trembling framework, failing to sustain interest despite running less than 80 minutes, minus the end credits. All in all, a failed opportunity to tell some bitter truths hilariously. Bring on the remake!

Toby Jones (as Truman Capote) and Sigourney Weaver (as Babe Paley) in INFAMOUS.

2006, Warner Home Video

Before seeing this Truman Capote biopic, based on a book by George Plimpton, I was under the mistaken impression that it covered the period in Capote's life after the publication of IN COLD BLOOD. Such an approach would likely have resulted in a better movie, at least a more useful one, than this ambivalent mess, which covers the same events as CAPOTE -- his research of the 1959 Clutter family slayings in Holcomb, Kansas -- but from a more pixieish angle. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, the first act can't decide whether it wants to be a swishy fishy-out-of-water comedy or a solemn drama; likewise, the rest of the movie feels uncertain in its depiction of Capote himself, who is rendered as a shallow, yet deeply troubled and self-delusional caricature of a tortured artist, surrounded by wealthy shallow friends, incapable of keeping secrets or telling the truth, who may or may not fall in love with a murderer on Death Row -- we can never tell.

Future Bond Daniel Craig has some convincing, intense moments as Clutter killer Perry Smith, especially as he's being led to the gallows, and it's a pleasure to see Sandra Bullock portraying a real character (Nelle Harper Lee) for a change, rather than some heroine of a vehicle. I can't tell whether her portrayal is more authentic than Catherine Keener's but I liked Bullock better -- she seems more at home onscreen as a supporting actress, and she's the only other character in sight who's not at least half cartoon. Rather like the two-dimensional richfolk played by Peter Bogdanovich (a poor Bennett Cerf), Sigourney Weaver and Isabella Rossellini, Toby Jones is a slippery facsimile of Truman Capote. He gets the character, but never quite succeeds in fully becoming the person, as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in CAPOTE, but one doesn't know whether to fualt the opportunities offered, the performance, or the direction. Worst of all, while the two Capote films agree on the topic of his essential insincerity, they are frequently at odds factually, leaving the viewer at loose ends about which version to believe. Of the two films, both of which pinge dramatically on Capote's homosexuality, this one feels the more authentically gay to me, yet -- offensively -- it also seems the more shallow and untrustworthy.

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