2009, R, 91 min. Directed by Mike Judge. Starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr., David Koechner, Dustin Milligan, Beth Grant, Gene Simmons.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 4, 2009
Finally, one of Judge’s live-action movies is the recipient of a wide theatrical release and a full-court marketing push. The success of his animated Beavis and Butt-Head Do America was followed by the disappointing theatrical run of Office Space (which grew into a cult favorite only after its release on home video) and the virtual dumping of his bleak and underproduced comedy Idiocracy in 2006. Now, for Labor Day weekend, Judge is back with another workplace comedy and though this new film lacks the fiercely satirical bite of Office Space and Idiocracy, Extract is hardly toothless. The comedy this time is on a broader scale, spread out among more characters and targeted more toward human follies than cultural institutions. Bateman plays Joel, Judge’s everyman, who is the owner of a factory that produces food flavorings of his own invention. Joel is beset by problems common to any small-business owner: lackluster employees, a lawsuit, and a pending sale of the business (which will be compromised by the lawsuit). Plus, Joel isn’t getting any sex at home from his wife Suzie (Wiig, who is terribly underused), and he can’t even drive up to his house without being bombarded with persistent chatter from his neighbor (Koechner), who drones on with no sense of how unwelcome he is (a more suburban version of Milton, Judge’s office drone in previous work). The subplots abound quickly: factory worker Step (Collins) is felled by a beautifully choreographed “mid-body accident,” which, in turn, attracts the attention of pretty grifter Cindy (Kunis), who is hired on as a temp at the extract factory, where she arouses the boss’ sexual desire. In order to assuage his guilt about infidelity, he is encouraged by his best friend, bartender Dean (Affleck), to hire a gigolo (Milligan) to seduce his wife, Suzie, a plan that works far better than he might have imagined, had he not been woozy on horse tranquilizers. Topping things off, is the ambulance-chasing lawyer played by Gene Simmons of Kiss fame, who threatens Joel with an eye-for-an-eye style legal settlement that will do for Joel’s testicles what that midbody accident did for Step’s. Judge’s jokes remain sardonic, but he’s not quite up to the task of handling all his characters and their subplots. Dean virtually disappears in the film’s second half, which is unfortunate since Affleck is appealing in this atypical role. The characters are generally one-note figures, though Bateman provides a solid presence as the film’s leading man. Still, Extract stumbles a bit when it leaves the workplace and tries to wrench comedy out of marital strife. It is perhaps Judge’s ability to infuse his factory setting with such seeming veracity that causes Joel and Suzie’s home life to appear so underdeveloped. As with Judge's other movies, stupidity reigns in Extract. It’s a vivid indictment of the way in which we all stumble along, yet the film never musters full-throated chagrin at our dull complacency.