Movies about stupid people are not required to be as stupid as their subjects. The disreputable sub-genre of two-morons-doing-moron-stuff comedy goes back to the beginnings of literature, but it was an especially favored mode of humor for William Shakespeare. Centuries of bone-dry study in high-school classrooms has managed to obscure the fact that some of the English language’s finest texts were originally conceived as lowbrow entertainment for the stinking groundlings. They brim with puns and other bawdy jokes, and it wasn’t unusual for Shakespeare to drop a pair of well-meaning fools into one of his tragedies to lighten the atmosphere a little bit between the various accidental murders and suicides. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may very well be the great-great-great-great-great-grandparents of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne. Idiocy was a precise tool in Shakespeare’s hands, with mindless shenanigans exposing the hypocrisies of everyday life and leading to inspired misunderstandings.
Bio-Dome ain’t Shakespeare.
Bud “Squirrel” Macintosh and Doyle “Stubbs” Johnson, the pair of dumbasses played by Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin in the 1996 film, are defined by their stupidity. Their rock-bottom IQs inform their every action in the film, like an invisible hand guiding them from self-created calamity to calamity. Just as Luke Wilson jumped into a shocking future ruled by dum-dums in Idiocracy, Squirrel and Stubbs emote disorientation as if they’ve just stumbled backwards from that same future. Everything they touch breaks, melts, bursts into flame, or explodes. The film joins the young men in what we may safely assume are their early 20s, and to be frank, it’s a minor miracle that they have lived that long. They are an absolute pair of boobs, but the film provides them with no metaphorical bra of support to keep them in order. Bio-Dome exults in allowing them to instead fly around every which way, haphazard and out of control. The reason that Bio-Dome is almost unwatchably awful and decidedly not Shakespeare is that it insists on celebrating Stubbs and Squirrel’s myriad follies and mirroring them, playing just as stupid as two of the most annoying characters ever committed to film.
Bio-Dome remains a baffling piece of work even today, on the 20th anniversary of its premiere to a viewing public that roundly rejected it, casting it off to languish in bargain-bin hell for the rest of eternity. A perennial contender in the battle for the title of Worst Movie Ever, Jason Bloom’s stinkburger keeps viewers engaged by posing perplexing questions through completely inexplicable details. Was that just a young Jack Black and Kyle Gass in Tenacious D’s first-ever film appearance? And why did they only play for, like, 25 seconds? Why is that oceanographer character named after Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 film The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant? What is this deep-cuts art cinema allusion doing in the dumbest movie ever made? Was being in this movie the worst thing that ever happened to Patty Hearst, or just the second-worst? Do people ever approach Rose McGowan and say, “Hey, aren’t you Rose McGowan from Bio-Dome?” just to mess with her? Truly, the picture contains crappy multitudes.
But on even the most foundational, conceptual level, Bio-Dome shamelessly wags its pickle at reason and logic. The long and short of it is that Squirrel and Stubbs have gotten in hot water with their green-minded girlfriends when they try to shirk a commitment they had previously made to pick up litter near a nature preserve. Upon hearing that their darlings have gone without them and attracted the attention of other men (neanderthal-level sexual impulses motivate most of what Squirrel and Stubbs do), they drive straight to the site and after finding it abandoned, dejectedly drive home. It is on the way home that they stop for a quick bathroom break in what they believe to be a new mall on the side of the road that’s actually a fully equipped, self-contained geodesic dome designed to sustain fertile life within the desert climate. The young men seem unbothered by the marked absence of pretzel kiosks and Claire’s outlets, certain that this lush jungle is indeed a mall. It’s not. They don’t realize this because they’re stupid.
The threadbare plot then strings our gallant heroes together with the five-scientist staff responsible for maintaining the internal temperature of the dome, cultivating its natural bounties, and keeping everything running smoothly. Two of them are hot lady-scientists — we know they are hot because when Stubbs and Squirrel see them, they start humping the air like dogs do when they smell the pheromones of female dogs. It’s tempting to draw a broader parallel between the Stubbs-Squirrel brain trust and canine intellect in general, but to do so would be uncharitable to dogs. They’re man’s best friend, and a hell of a lot better at taking instructions than the protagonists of this film.
They then incite assorted shenanigans — getting loaded on a secret stash of laughing gas, pigging out on contraband junk food with a vigor that verges on the erotic, essentially laying waste to everything with the misfortune to cross their path — none of which amount to anything when totaled up. A typically boneheaded ploy from Stubbs and Squirrel to salvage their good graces with their girlfriends (and, in effect, the movie) sees them throwing a massive party that demolishes the titular bio-dome, but that only sets up an erratic slide into a stranger deviation of plot that involves defusing homemade coconut-bombs strategically placed to murder everyone in the cast. A well-made comedy would have perspective on this idiocy and be able to find the humor in it from a point of comedic detachment, but Bio-Dome lacks even a single grain of self-awareness. Bio-Dome is one of those movies with such a profoundly misconceived premise and poorly-executed production that, frankly, it’s astonishing it exists at all. When watching it, the viewer’s primary reaction is one of incredulousness rather than outrage. In the parlance of Ron Burgundy, audiences aren’t even mad. We’re impressed.
Stephen Baldwin hinted at the possibility of a sequel to Bio-Dome during an appearance on Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller’s radio show in 2013, envisioning a film starring Stubbs and Squirrel’s children. The likelihood of that coming to pass ought to be slim, what with this nearly-forgotten property having zero notable stars attached and a reputation that would actually drive down ticket sales. But then, if Bio-Dome 2: Return 2 The Bio-Dome defied all expectations by weaseling its way into existence, that would only be in the spirit of the original that never should have been. Revisiting a film like Bio-Dome is not a matter of checking in on how it’s stood the test of time; Pauly Shore transcends time, he exists outside of it. Bio-Dome will not be better or worse 20 more years from now, and barring some sort of shocking Bio-Dome renaissance in which a flood of new films manage to rework the 1996 original’s stupidity to more purposeful ends, it will not enjoy a rich legacy. In an antithetical, vaguely poetic way, Shore and Baldwin’s unadulterated stupidity has made them eternal. In continuing to attract gawkers at their grand experiment in incompetence, they have achieved immortality.