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Beavis And Butt-Head Do The Universe Review: Heh ... Heh .... Fire

EDITORS' RATING: 7/10
Pros
  • Beavis and Butt-Head encounter 2022 technology
  • Cornholio leads a prison uprising in the name of TP
  • Mike Judge's irreverent, subtle humor
Cons
  • Even at 86 minutes, the plot drags at times

A visit from old friends is always welcome, and if you can remember the 1993 to 1997 heyday of MTV's "Beavis and Butt-Head," it's hard to imagine a better source of sweet, sweet nostalgia than "Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe." Even at a scant 86-minutes, at times the film does seem to drag. But sustaining these two characters over the length of an entire movie can be hard ... nevertheless, if the final word of that last statement made you giggle, you've come to the right place.

After a career that has provided some of the most subversive satire of the past several decades — from "Office Space" to "Idiocracy" to "King of the Hill" and "Silicon Valley" — it's great to see Mike Judge finally return to the two idiots who started it all. Beavis and Butt-Head may not have a lot of depth to them, but beneath their huge heads and incessant giggling is a unique tone that has been absent from the comedy landscape for too long. The stars here might be the titular teens, but it's Judge's offbeat little world that is most enjoyable to re-visit.

The flick kicks off in 1998, pretty much where we left the duo after the underrated "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America." Through a "Being There"-like series of events, the boys keep failing up and getting in greater and greater positions of absurd success, destroying a science fair, getting into space camp, and displaying such an affinity for steering the phallic extension of a space shuttle into a hole on the Mir space station (you can see where this is headed) that they are selected to venture into space. Of course, when Serena (Andrea Savage), the female leader of the mission tells them they'll have the opportunity to do it "for real" with her, they think they're going to score.

Remember when that was all the motivation you needed for movie characters? In many ways, a 2022 version of "Beavis and Butt-Head" constantly feels one joke away from going too far; on the other hand, the clash of notoriousness and nostalgia exemplified by "Porky's," "Revenge of the Nerds," "Risky Business" and other entertainment of the '80s and '90s whose plotlines revolved around teens trying to get some feels as quaint today as it is creepy. "Universe" drops Beavis and Butt-Head into a wormhole (heh heh ... hole) in 1998, spits them out in 2022, and they bring along that mentality with them.

Some of the best gags are fish-out-of-water stuff that plays up how much technology has changed (cell phones and the internet, indeed, were just gaining popularity around the time "Beavis and Butt-Head" went away). When the pair find themselves "accidentally" stealing a cell phone, their first impression is that the show on it "sucks." But when they learn that its Apple Pay-like capabilities allow them to go on a nachos bender, and Beavis falls in love with Siri (the first "person" to ever actually listen to him), they come to treasure the device.

A space idiocy

What's the plot of "Universe"? Well, technically, in 2022 Serena is running for Governor and is convinced the re-surfaced duo is out to ruin her, so she's determined to cover up her 1998 attempted murder of the boys by finishing the job; the feds are also after them, convinced by their wormhole re-entry that they must be aliens; and a Watcher-like "smart" Beavis and "smart" Butt-Head keep popping up, warning them about the imminent destruction of multiple universes. But in what might be the best third-act twist in a film this year, all three plots amount to "oops, my mistake" abandonment — one last knowing wink, perhaps, to the indifference of Gen X from whence they've come.

But as much fun as it is to watch Beavis & Butt-Head staring at the sun through a high-powered telescope, mistaking the "R" on a car gear shift for "Really Fast," or simply wearing the Metallica and AC/DC tees again (back in the day, they were replaced by "Death Rock" and "Skull"), the secret sauce here is the dry, crude humor that has powered this duo (and indeed, Judge's whole career) since the days of "Frog Baseball."

Who else would think to have Beavis and Butt-Head in an intense conversation with their "Smart" outer space counterparts about the future of reality itself while inserting a background joke with a guy on a bike dismissively trying to get past them to use the stairs? Who else would tantalize a now-40-year-long-fanbase with rare personal details about its main characters (Beavis, apparently, is his last name), only to have the information drowned out by the noise of Beavis and Butt-Head playing with a garbage disposal?

Days of future past

It's great to have Judge reunited once again with the medium that made him, even if watching Beavis and Butt-Head engage in any feature-length adventure feels a bit like taking the characters from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and forcing them out onto the road for zany hijinks. After all, B and B were at their peak powers in the '90s when they were simply sitting in front of the TV, mocking the music videos of the day, and taking away that element of their persona is robbing them of a key element of their success. Honestly, how fun would it have been to have the boys discover a streaming box and flip around "Squid Games," "Tiger King" and "Yellowstone" for a few moments?

But in the end, "Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe" is confident in what it wants to be, and it works. Perhaps the film's funniest segment comes when Beavis and Butt-Head wander onto a college campus and find themselves in a modern-day classroom. When white privilege is explained to them as white men "automatically assuming they can take whatever they want," the duo see this as not shameful but empowering. As they run around campus, grabbing anything their hearts desire, Beavis unapologetically offers "We're subverting existing paradigms."

For a wild double feature, it would be fun to pair "Universe" with "Apollo 10 1/2," another recent animated streaming film about a kid and the space program with a shared Texan sensibility, albeit a far more reverent attitude. That Richard Linklater effort was a welcomed return of his distinct voice; alongside Judge, the duo has been pushing envelopes with authentic voices for decades, even when commercial considerations have pushed back against them. Buried far, far beneath the stupidity of Beavis and Butt-Head, there is a lot of brilliance — and in these troubled times, there is something comforting about the knowledge that Cornholio still seeks TP for his bunghole.