by Rob Gonsalves
In tone and spirit, "Extract" kept reminding me of various smart, well-acted, but lukewarm indie comedies of the ‘90s — comedies less manic than depressive. This, fairly or not, isn’t what we expect from Mike Judge, creator of Beavis & Butt-head and the cult satires "Office Space" and "Idiocracy."Those films have dialogue and sequences that are still talked about years later. Extract isn’t especially quotable or, sadly, especially funny, and it isn’t satirical, either — not in the same sense as Judge’s other work. It’s not a bad film — it runs smoothly, creates an environment and a mood. But fans of Judge’s previous work might do well to scale their expectations back — maybe all the way back to waiting for Netflix.
"Better luck next time, Mike."
Jason Bateman’s Joel, owner of a bottled-extract company, is the first well-to-do hero of a Mike Judge film. Joel is leaning towards selling the company so he can retire (at his young age?), which makes his assembly-line employees nervous about their future. Good lord, what awful timing — good luck finding an audience who’ll sympathize with Joel at this moment in American history. (The script, I’m guessing, was written well before the economy did a face-plant; it started shooting last August.) Judge throws a few barbs at the various doofuses who work for Joel, but Judge must realize how mean-spirited it is to score laughs on the Wal-Mart dwellers and ethnic types working for a rich white man, so the barbs are half-hearted.
Joel’s biggest problem isn’t work anyway. His wife (Kristen Wiig, who seems to be channeling Jennifer Aniston), bored and frustrated making coupons for the company at home, lacks the energy to have sex with him. Joel’s solution is to surreptitiously hook her up with a gigolo, so that he can guiltlessly pursue his own interest in a new temp (Mila Kunis), a con artist who wants to manipulate an injured worker into suing the company for big bucks that she can then, presumably, abscond with. In a vague way, Extract is a satire — everyone in it has blinkered, self-interested motives. The target would appear to be the folly of chasing happiness in the forms of sex, money, power. But the movie lacks the pitiless shape of great satire — it’s rather amorphous and bland.
I almost felt that I was being asked to feel sorry for Mike Judge, the rich, successful creator surrounded by (studio) idiots. Jason Bateman usually plays the sanest person in the room, and he’s the movie’s default moral center, but when we watch him visiting that injured worker (who lost a testicle, haw haw) at the man’s cluttered white-trash house (that nonetheless sports a large flat-screen TV in the living room), the comedy becomes sour. Bateman is there to talk the guy out of a lawsuit, which could endanger the potential big sale of the company that will allow Bateman to retire in comfort with his lavish house and big pool, and I felt the movie floating away from me — we’re supposed to care?
Extract is full of talented people doing their best in underwritten roles, and if it weren’t for the fact that nobody comes off well, I’d lament the screenwriting that makes all the women either duplicitous or callous. The movie simply has no verve, no personality, no point of view; it seems as bored and essenceless as Joel’s wife. I couldn’t work out why it was made, why I was watching, why Mike Judge felt the need to tell this story.Just when the movie is about to die, though, Gene Simmons swoops in as Joe Adler, a slimy lawyer who advertises on bus-stop benches, and shocks the film to life for one scene. Simmons would’ve been the dominating center of a better Mike Judge comedy; that he’s relegated to a late-inning walk-on and a quick post-credits encore speaks none too well of Judge’s priorities.
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originally posted: 09/07/09 07:01:00