Friday, September 4, 2009
Mike Judge, the creator of “King of the Hill,” “Beavis and Butthead,” and “Office Space,” serves up the new comedy “Extract” (opening September 4 throughout San Diego) about a small business owner whose life is falling apart.
Mike Judge endeared himself to cubicle dwellers everywhere with his work place comedy “Office Space.” The plight of those at the bottom and the satisfaction of one such underling rising to the top provided delectable laughs in Judge’s first live action feature. It didn’t hurt that he had already found a niche on the cult circuit with his crudely animated and even more crudely humored MTV comedy “Beavis and Butthead.” And he followed both with the blue collar, redneck comedy “King of the Hill.”
But now Judge looks to someone at the top, the owner and boss of an extract factory. Granted it’s a small hill from which Joel (Jason Bateman) looks down but he is the one in charge. So humor from a boss’ perspective is different than that from an employee’s. Most of us work for someone, far fewer of us find ourselves running a company so the perspective doesn’t immediately win us to the film’s side. Fortunately, Bateman’s every guy persona does.
Joel built his company from scratch and from a love for flavor extracts born in his mom’s kitchen. But now the job’s a grind. His workers are lazy, racist, or just plain dumb. The demands of work also keep him away from home and now his marriage is suffering. So life could be better. But things get worse before they improve. A workplace accident leaves an employee (Clifton Collins, Jr.) with one less testicle; jealousy prompts Joel to tempt his wife with a local dim-witted gigilo (Dustin Milligan); and a sexy new employee (Milas Kunis) may bring down the company or Joel’s marriage.
“Extract” has some comic high points. At the top is a hilarious bong scene that plays Bateman’s anxious Joel perfectly against his more laidback friend. Gene Simmons as an ambulance-chasing lawyer with obnoxious TV ads is also a crack up. But these high points are too often bridged by long dull stretches where you begin to wonder where Judge is taking his comedy. And when Judge wraps everything up with a heavy dose of feel-goodness, you feel a little disappointed. The characters are not quite endearing enough to make me buy Joel’s sudden warm and fuzzy feelings for them. The film felt like it needed an edgier, maybe angrier end with Joel chucking the company that stole time away from his marriage and dumping the employees who gave him little more than grief. But the film coasts along at such a low-key, “whatever” vibe that Joel’s frustration never peaks in a satisfying comic or emotional explosion.
Bateman carries the film well. He’s appealing and provides an anchor for the film without simply being the straight man for the gags. It's a nicely tempered performance. Ben Affleck with a scraggly beard plays a laidback bartender who gives bad advice. He’s trying for the same type of performance that James Franco did so well in “Pineapple Express” but he’s not nearly as successful. Collins, Jr. as the loyal employee who loses a testicle is the best of the supporting cast. Once again it took me a good long while to even recognize him. Before this he was Perry Smith in “Capote” and the amputee in “Sunshine Cleaning,” and all his performances are effective but not flashy. J.K. Simmons is wasted as Joel’s second in command whose only memorable trait is an inability to remember anyone’s name (everyone’s a dinkus to him and that gag gets old fast). Also wasted are David Koechner as an annoying neighbor who annoys us too and Kristen Wiig as Joel’s wife. The characters are mostly defined by single traits and the comedy too often revolves around repeat gags that wear thin so despite a 91-minute run time the film feels long.
“Extract” (rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use) is diverting but mild fun. Judge has packed more laughs, social satire, and cleverness into his half-hour TV shows than into this feature.
Companion viewing: “Office Space,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “Thank You for Smoking”