Despite its lack of a major theatrical release, the film has achieved something of a cult following because of its satire of the “dumbing down” of contemporary society and the breakdown of individual responsibility and consequences.
A narrator explains that natural selection is indifferent to intelligence, so that in a society in which intelligence is systematically debased, stupid people easily out-breed the intelligent, creating, over the course of five centuries, an irremediably dysfunctional society. Demographic superiority favours those least likely to advance society. Consequently, the children of the educated élites are drowned in a sea of sexually promiscuous, illiterate, alcoholic, proletarian peers.
In 2005, Corporal Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), a US Army librarian graphed as the Army's "most average" soldier, and Rita (Maya Rudolph), a prostitute terrified of her pimp, Upgrayedd (pronounced: up•grade, two D's for "a double-dose of his pimping"), are guinea pigs in a secret, year-long, military hibernation project. They are sealed in their hibernation chambers, to be awakened a year later, but the experiment is forgotten when the officer in charge, Lieutenant Colonel Collins (Michael McCafferty), is arrested for having started his own prostitution ring under the tutelage of Upgrayedd. The military base is demolished, and a Fuddruckers (eventually devolving into Buttfuckers) is built on the site.
Five hundred years in the future, their hibernation chambers are jarred open in the 'Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505', reviving both of them. Joe crashes into the apartment of Frito Pendejo (Dax Shepard), a typical, idiot citizen of the U.S. future, with an apartment full of junk food and a prominent, giant television that is covered with adverts. His name, Frito Pendejo is a haphazard combination of a product mascot (Frito Bandito) and the Spanish slang word insult.
Joe is disoriented: in brief conversation Frito insults Joe's "more advanced" manner of speaking as "faggy"; in hospital, slacker Dr Lexus, MD (Justin Long), diagnoses him as simply "'tarded" and "fucked up". Dr Lexus panics on discovering that Joe has no barcode-tattoo on his left wrist, and so cannot be scanned for automatic debit payment from his bank account. Having noticed that the date of a magazine he finds on the doctor's desk (Hot Naked Chicks and World Report, 3 March 2505) is the same date indicated on his bill, Joe finally grasps that 500 years have passed since the Army put him in stasis. He is disturbed by the sights of the collapsing world, and flees the hospital, only to be arrested at a Carl's Jr. junk food vending booth for not paying his hospital bill and for not having a barcode tattoo.
At trial, Joe's public defense lawyer ("Attornee at Law") is Frito Pendejo, Esq., who stupidly helps convict him, citing the prosecutor's insistence that Joe is guilty and his own anger at Joe for getting garbage in his apartment. Joe is imprisoned; a poorly-designed I.D.-tattoo machine re-names Joe as "Not Sure" (because he is not sure about his name as it appears on some form) and barcode-tattoos him as such. During a mandatory (and very simple) I.Q. test, Joe grasps just how stupid humanity has become. Easily escaping his dim jailors, Joe returns to Frito's apartment, asking him if a time machine exists to help him return to the past, to 2005. Frito claims there is one, but agrees to help only after Joe promises him billions of dollars in interest on a bank account that Joe will open in the past on his return.
En route to the time machine, Joe and Frito find Rita. She does not know that she's been asleep for 500 years until Joe tells her, and even then, she thinks Upgrayedd will find her. Frito leads them to a city-sized Costco, where Joe is re-arrested when he accidentally scans his barcode; instead of prison, Joe is delivered to the White House. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews) has seen Joe's I.Q. test (scoring him as the most intelligent man in the world) and recruits him as Secretary of the Interior to correct the United States' food and crop shortages, dust bowl, crippled economy, mountains of garbage, and related matters. The other cabinet members are lampoons of contemporary politicians — nepotism, corporate loyalty corruption, and over-emphasis on sex appeal in political media coverage.
Joe learns that water has been replaced with Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator, a drink advertised as "rich in electrolytes", for virtually every purpose, including crop irrigation. Water is only used in toilets. Over time, the electrolytes in Brawndo accumulated in the soil, killed the crops, and caused the food shortage. After Joe reintroduces the practice of watering crops, the Brawndo Corporation's stock becomes worthless, causing great unemployment without visibly improving the crop situation. The angry populace riot, and Joe is sentenced to a day of "rehabilitation", an execution disguised as a public demolition derby, billed as "Monday Night Rehabilitation". Meanwhile, Rita discovers that Joe's reintroduction of watering the soil has made crops sprout in the fields. To save Joe, with Frito Pendejo in tow, she bribes a television cameraman to show the thriving crops to the world. Before reaching the crop field, Frito and the cameraman are distracted by a sale at a Starbucks chain brothel franchise; only after they quarrel and fight does Frito remember his duty and film the crop sprouts. President Camacho sees the thriving new plants on the stadium's big-screen televisions, and grants Joe a pardon just as he is about to be incinerated with a flamethrower.
At the celebration, Joe decides to stay and help repair American civilization; President Camacho names him Vice President of America. He also learns that the "Time Masheen" is just an amusement park history ride, wherein Charlie Chaplin was leader of the Nazi party who used dinosaurs to wage war on the world, and the U.N. (pronounced "The Un") "Un-Nazied the world forever". Joe serves a short term as Vice President, then is elected as Camacho's successor. Joe and Rita marry and have the world's three smartest children, while Frito Pendejo takes eight wives and fathers thirty-two of the world's stupidest children, echoing the introduction to the film.
After the credits, a third hibernation capsule is shown opening, releasing a snappily dressed Upgrayedd into the world, intent on tracking down Rita.
According to a radio interview with Mike Judge, he originally offered the cameo role of the Brawndo CEO to Office Space star Ron Livingston, but instead cast Thomas Haden Church because of scheduling conflicts.
Despite these troubles, the film received generally favorable reviews by critics. It received a 71% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes (from 38 reviews). Praise focused on concept, casting, and humor; the worst of the criticism was directed at the film's release issues, and some special effects and pacing problems.
Box office receipts totaled $444,093 in 135 theaters in the U.S.