A likeable cast can’t overcome Extract’s shortcomings
Writer and director Mike Judge is known for making modest yet fun—and socially relevant—comedy from subsections of everyday America.
For his movie Office Space, unhappy 20-somethings at a faceless tech company (and a cheesy chain restaurant) manage comeuppance via comic hijinks that satirize the soul-sucking nature of corporate servitude; in King of the Hill, a colorful mishmash of suburbanites in a small Texas town comically navigate the intersection of middle-American values and the encroaching modern world; and with Beavis and Butt-head, a couple of socially disconnected, suburban, metal-head teens tell fart jokes and watch a lot of TV while lampooning the same mass-media culture that rots their brains.
And of course Judge’s latest movie, Extract, is about a small-business owner and blue-collar workers in America trying to get by during unstable economic times. Only, it’s not about that. Even though it’s been touted as such, Extract in no way mirrors nor is sympathetic to any current economic factors. It does take on the story of a modern man in mid-life crisis, but unfortunately, with its cast of flat characters standing around as a string of convoluted circumstances meander by, the film does not match Judge’s previous works.
Jason Batemen plays Joel, the owner of a small extract-making factory. Joel is bored—bored with his factory and bored with his marriage. In response to the boredom, Joel thinks he wants to sell the factory to General Mills and maybe bonk his new hottie assembly-line temp (Mila Kunis). In response to Joel’s wants, the film gives us a workplace accident that leads to an impending lawsuit that may threaten the sale of the factory, as well as a turn where his wife (Kristen Wiig) repeatedly gets down with a gigolo whom Joel hired so he could feel OK about cheating. (Poor “regular guy”—he just can’t catch a break!)
Egging on his woes are the backroom manipulations of the hot temp, who it turns out is actually a grifter. Actually, no character garners any real empathy—everyone is kind of a jerk. Joel is pretty slimy. His workers are variously racist, catty and manipulative, and his manager (J.K. Simmons) despises them all, calling them alternately “dingus” and “boy genius.” Joel’s blowhard neighbor (David Koechner) repeatedly invades his privacy with the same tired bit. And his best buddy (Ben Affleck) drugs him and leaves him to fend for himself with a bong-smoking, muscle-bound psycho.
Batemen is a charming actor with great deadpan timing, but there’s been almost nothing provided in these flat proceedings with which he can put his charms to use.
The forced, lazy story is only part of the problem though. There are flat moments scattered throughout Judge’s other work as well, but he’s always had hilarious and original, or at least quirky, characters to pull us through. Here, with the exception of a few moments with Joel, plus Affleck’s druggy, floppy-haired, hotel lounge bartender and a funny line by a lawyer played by a frightening-looking Gene Simmons, every character is forgettable. Kunis is a blank-faced cardboard cutout, and even the normally charming Wiig is left to uncomfortably squirm as she is reduced to being the butt of an extended joke.
If not for a few isolated chuckles and some of today’s more likeable comedy actors agreeing to appear on screen, this would be just a bad movie.