Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review - Extract

Mike Judge's Extract may not contain as many laugh-out-loud moments as his earlier Office Space and Idiocracy, and I doubt it will achieve the same kind of cult status, but I think it might actually be his best film to date. By that I mean it hangs together in a more cohesive fashion than his first two films did, and it expands on Judge's favourite themes in a satisfying way. Starring some of the most ubiquitous characters actors in Hollywood, Extract takes place in a small food extract factory that was built from the ground up by Joel (Jason Bateman), an amiable fellow going through a minor midlife crisis. He's bored in his work and sexually frustrated, with a particular item of his wife's wardrobe having become his bĂȘte noire. Every night, Joel races home from work desperate to beat the nightly 8pm deadline, but if Suzie (Kristen Wiig) has changed into her comfortable sweatpants before he gets there, then sex is off the menu.

A few separate plot developments combine to disrupt Joel's flat existence. First of all, a major corporation takes the first steps towards buying Joel out, potentially giving him the opportunity to take his life in a new direction, but a ridiculous accident on the shop floor that results in a lost testicle and potential legal ramifications threatens that move. Secondly, Joel falls for a beautiful and flirtatious temp, unaware that Cindy (Mila Kunis) is a con artist who intends to take full advantage of the impending lawsuit, and finally, Joel has the bright idea of sharing his sexual woes with barman Dean (Ben Affleck on good form – he should do more comedy). A dispenser of both drugs and unsound wisdom, Dean convinces Joel to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife, thus freeing Joel of any sense of guilt and allowing him to sleep with Cindy.

From this setup, Judge spins an enjoyable comedy that never really gets out of second gear. It's the kind of film that makes you smile consistently throughout, and occasionally makes you chuckle, but never quite manages to hit the big laughs you might be hoping for. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, and the consistency present in Extract is something that was sorely lacking in Judge's previous cinematic ventures. Office Space has some brilliant workplace observations in its first half which are unfortunately undermined by the weaknesses of the plot, and Idiocracy is a mish-mash of brilliant ideas that never quite gels into a whole (although the film deserved a lot better than its straight-to-DVD fate). Extract is a good deal less ambitious than Idiocracy, but that lower bar allows Judge to hit his targets with greater accuracy.

Judge has a keen eye for the banality of everyday life, and Extract has plenty of well-observed gags that ring true, with an irritating neighbour (well played by David Koechner) being a particularly fine creation. As Joel's right-hand man at the factory, JK Simmons has fun with some wry comments on the failings of the workers he watches every day ("That's his whole career, you know? Driving that damn forklift. You'd think he'd want to learn how."), while Beth Grant plays a busybody who spends all day complaining that nobody in the plant does any work but her. Judge is often guilty of relying a little too heavily on his actors to sell their roles, though. As written, a couple of them are little more than thin caricatures, but Judge does draw some cherishable performances from the most unlikely sources, with actors like Dustin Milligan (as a hilariously dim gigolo) and Gene Simmons (as a sleazy lawyer) having great fun with their supporting turns.

Sometimes, however, there's only so much an actor can do, and Mila Kunis barely registers here, given how bafflingly underwritten the role of Cindy is. Judge could have done with taking another run at his screenplay, in order to beef up some of the flimsier sections and tie off a few of the loose ends, which give the film a slack, lazy air. But Judge keeps us engaged and he eventually finds a sense of emotional depth in a couple of scenes, like Joel's conversation with the injured Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) or his final scene with Suzie, that help give this seemingly inconsequential film a sense of weight. Some longstanding Judge fans might be disappointed to see this talented satirist following up a film like Idiocracy with such a conventional, sitcom-style piece of work, but those of us frustrated by his earlier failings will take Extract as a sign of progress.