2022 | unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | starring voices of Mike Judge, Andrea Savage, Gary Cole, Chi McBride | directed by John Rice & Albert Calleros | 1 hr 27 mins |
A decade after the last series revival and nearly 3 since their 1996 movie, Mike Judge’s animated teenagers, Beavis and Butt-Head are back, dropped into a new world that they can shake up just by being who they always were. In 1996, Beavis & Butt-Head accidently burn down their school science fair, resulting in a judge sentencing the two “at risk youths” to space camp where their obsession with docking probes puts them on a shuttle and through a black hole where they come out in 2022. Navigating a future they don’t understand, the duo set about on a trek to score, with government suits and multi-dimensional beings hot on their trail.
Judge (along with co-writer Ian Maxton-Graham, the man credited with both one of the funniest episodes of The Simpsons and a large hand in ruining it) and directors John Rice and Albert Calleros, craft a top-of-the-line, smart dumb movie with Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe. Lapping Do America with an outlandish sci-fi premise that puts our heroes as two fish out of water in an era of phones that talk. The movie has a ferocious commitment to it that builds on top of it one innuendo and mistaken identity after another. In a sea of safe, barely existent comedies, Universe is laugh-out-loud funny and it does so not only without flagging, but getting better as it goes.
It’s hard to describe what is so purely funny about Beavis and Butt-Head, but if you put a gun to my head I would probably argue that it’s the dead-pan delivery of all involved. Another movie this full of sex puns, toilet humor (literally, featuring a long gag of Beavis stuck in a toilet), guys kicking each other in the nads and dumb guys doing dumb things would be loud, broad and continually shine a lantern on how dumb everything is. Butt-Head’s deadpan delivery of lines like “counting sucks” and the sheer seriousness of everything around the duo quietly highlight the contrasting absurdity. These movies work best when treating the duo like they’re in Being There, where everyone around them mistakes their utterances for threats and profound statements while they cluelessly bumble from one misbegotten assumption to the next. As they get confronted by new things, it’s fun to watch the film explore the depth of what Beavis and Butt-Head don’t actually know, many of the jokes force Beaves and Butt-Head to confront things that still hasn’t changed in the last 20 years, like driving, billboards and reading numbers. The movie is also great at setting up jokes we will see a mile away and then playing that into the joke itself, like a scene where we see a sign for the “Johnson Space Center” and just wait for them to walk by and notice it. It’s all infectiously fun.
Beavis and Butt-Head have always had a pretty toxic co-dependent relationship and it’s interesting how hard Do the Universe leans into that dynamic. Beavis comes off sweeter than ever here and Butt-Head more of a bully than ever. When the two fantasize about what it will be like to finally “score”, their fantasies are very different and work as a joke, but at the same time say a lot about what they want – with Butt-Head seeking a room full of chicks and Beavis seeking a girlfriend that fights for him. It’s comparable to the 3 guys (you may call “lovable losers”) at the center of The Hangover, a movie that works so much better than other dumb/gross-out comedies because at the center of the sex and drug jokes are likable guys with a wholesomeness to what they want. That Beavis and Butt-Head were at one time seen as a threat to the nation’s MTV-watching youth feels like something so quaint now. This thing is a work of maximum efficiency with several moments built on a joke, a satirical point and a character moment all woven together. The movie never flags, never goes for an emotional beat or a message. It is a laser-focused 90 minute joke machine that clicks together effortlessly.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is smart-dumb. From a scripting standpoint it has to be more challenging than it looks to keep a plot afloat when driven by characters who are so dumb they barely know where they are most of the time. Judge and crew have constructed a patchwork comedy of errors here adding to the mix time travel, aliens, government goons, college, nachos and Siri to keep the boys pinballing around 2022. This is the best version of Beavis and Butt-Head – the more serious you put the events around them, the funnier they get.
Scriptwriting 101: your characters need a motivation- and Beavis and Butt-Head’s all-driving motive to “score” is enough to send them through time and space. As mentioned, Do the Universe gets better as it goes and it’s rare for a comedy to go out on a final punchline as high as this one. The final scene of this movie made me laugh harder than any movie in recent memory. In an assembly line Hollywood landscape that wants to be all things to all people, that wants to deliver messages and craft cinematic universes, the light-weight, gag-heavy return of Beavis and Butt-Head is a refreshing blast of cold air.