“Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” is only the second Beavis and Butt-Head movie — after “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America,” which came out (are you ready to feel old?) in 1996. That’s a long time to put a franchise about the world’s dumbest, horniest, and most meta teenage metal-heads on hold. But I’m not sure that the world was clamoring for another Beavis and Butt-Head movie, and this one isn’t exactly the “Top Gun: Maverick” of B & B-Head sequels. It is, however, a shaggy, snark-infused lark that’s likable enough to get by. The first movie, amusing as some of it was, never found the cultural foothold that “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” did, and the reason is that Beavis and Butt-Head were most at home on their MTV series, a form that mirrored their fractured attention spans — and that allowed them, of course, to critique music videos, which lent the series a stupido-smart “Mystery Science Theater” element that was generally my favorite part of each episode.
“Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” is a time-tripping sci-fi burlesque that features the Space Shuttle Endeavour and wormholes and a multiverse. But for all the tongue-in-butt-cheek quantum gamesmanship on display, it’s really a time machine of nostalgia, one that finds Beavis and Butt-Head very much their old familiar blitzed and big-haired metal-T-shirted selves, still unable to see what’s right in front of them after all these years. Following a digital prelude that wittily parodies the climax of “Star Wars,” the two lay waste to the Highland High School Science Fair; they’re then sentenced, by a philanthropic judge, to spend eight weeks at Space Camp. It’s 1998, and their group is led by Serena (Andrea Savage), commander of the Endeavour, who after seeing our heroes demonstrate a docking maneuver as if it were something out of a porn film — she thinks they’re showing what dedicated student engineers they are — chooses them to join her on the Space Shuttle crew.
They, however, are convinced that she wants them to “score” with her; that’s the only thing on their awesomely primitive one-track minds. They couldn’t care less about the wonders of space, the awesome Shuttle telescope (peering through it, Beavis says, “All I see is, like, nighttime or something”), or the fact that when the ship’s delicate rendezvous with the space station Mir destroys everything in sight, they’re told by mission control that there’s only enough oxygen left for five of the seven crew members. Greeting this news with triumphantly obtuse indifference, Beavis says, “I think we’re all thinking the same thing here. Can we put the TV back on?” Butt-Head: “Yeah, but something cool this time, ’cause that show sucked.” Beavis: “Yeah, really. ‘You have no oxygen, blah blah blah’…”
At a moment like that, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” can leave you chuckling with affection at the cutting-edge boneheads these two used to be, with their warthog chortles and their utter lack of affect about everything in existence except for the spotting of words like “wood,” “Johnson” (as in Johnson Space Camp), and “black hole.” After the two get cut loose and wind up flying through space, they enter one of those black holes only to splash down in Galveston, Texas, in 2022. They’ve ruptured the space-time continuum! But Serena is now the governor of Texas, which means they still expect to score with her.
With our heroes thrust 25 years into the future, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” turns into a butt-head-out-of-water picaresque. Our heroes get hooked up with a cell phone, which they at first think is a bad tiny TV set, until they learn that it can pay for anything. They take it on a shopping bender, though the only thing they’re interested in buying is nachos. They pass through college, where they learn in a gender studies class that they have “white privilege,” which they think is a perk they didn’t know about. They land in the county jail, where Beavis, high on prison drugs, treats us to the return of Cornholio, who inspires a prison riot (“You have nothing to lose but your bungholes!”). And in a fun running gag, they keep bumping into Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head, bald robed alien versions of themselves who hail from an alternate universe. They’re the most intelligent of all possible versions of the two (which means still not all that bright). What’s more, as they confess, “No version of Beavis and Butt-Head has ever scored.”
Good cartoon characters tend to be ageless, and “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” is just clever enough not to feel like an anachronism. The duo’s creator and forever naughty guiding light, Mike Judge, flows the characters into the present day without a hitch in style or a stitch in time. He’s making them the butt of a joke-fantasy for the superhero age. Back in the day, though, it sometimes seemed as if Beavis and Butt-Head were the future — of what it can look like when youth culture totally cuts itself off from reality. At the time, there was a how-low-can-they-go comic danger to all that. Now they’re just one exhibit among many in our mad race to the bottom.