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Judge’s Extract is a little thin
by Molly Templeton
EXTRACT: Written and directed by Mike Judge. Cinematography, Tim Suhrstedt. Editor, Julia Wong. Music, George S. Clinton. Starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons and Clifton Collins Jr. Miramax Films, 2009. 90 minutes. R.
|Jason Bateman and Clifton Collins Jr. in Extract|
When it comes down to it, a large part of the reason Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) is having such a bad week is simple: sex. He just wants to sleep with his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), but if he gets home after 8 pm, her sweatpants are snugly cinched. So Joel limps back out into the world, hanging out with his bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck, surprisingly funny in terrible hair) and contemplating an affair. Conveniently, a new temp, Cindy (Mila Kunis), has just started at his factory, Reynold Extracts — he invented a way to make more flavorful food extracts — and she’s really rather fetching.
Extract is a funhouse mirror to director Mike Judge’s Office Space, but it creates an awkwarder space for its mild and scattered laughs. In Office Space, the focus was on the employees who had to tolerate their idiot boss; here, the boss is the film’s center, and while he’s not exactly an idiot, he’s a bit hapless. But what of the employees? Judge gives us a factory floor full of cliché and stupidity, and he’s sparing with the sympathy. Mary (Beth Grant) is a sour chatterbox who refuses to do her work when she thinks someone else isn’t working, and she’s quick to accuse her Mexican colleague when her purse is stolen. Rory (T.J. Miller) is a deluded metal dude who thinks he’s just working at the factory until one of his bands takes off. And Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) spends most of his time bragging about being the fastest sorter on the floor — until a freak accident puts him temporarily out of work. He’s none too bright, but he is the most sympathetic of the bunch.
Maybe it’s just simple discomfort that makes Extract fizzle somewhat: In Judge’s Idiocracy, virtually everyone’s an idiot, and the writer-director is equal-opportunity with the stupid. In Office Space, there’s a sense of solidarity, of everyone bonding against the boss. But when it’s the boss we’re sympathetic to and the workers who’re the idiots, the script starts to feel nasty. To some, Extract doesn’t judge, just shows people for who they are — everyone’s stupid and/or tasteless, Joel and his ugly, carefully decorated house included. But Joel’s still a nice guy, if one who can’t seem to take control of his life or make up his mind about much of anything. We get to know Joel; all we see of his employees is that they say a lot of stupid shit.
The one exception to this is Step, who has a lovely moment when he tells Joel that he just wants to come back to work. It’s what he does. Step is a good ol’ boy who watches hunting shows on his giant TV and refuses to think the worst of Cindy even when it’s clear he’s got good reason. But in this one little scene, he becomes just like Joel, who also comes to a realization about what he does. It’s one of the movie’s best moments, and one of its quietest. Most of the better scenes involve Dean and his endless suggestions for how Joel’s life could be improved (often through the clumsy application of various drugs). Dean’s best or worst idea, depending on how you’re calling it, is to hire a would-be gigolo to seduce Joel’s wife, thus freeing him of any guilt about potentially having an affair. This works out just about as well as you’d expect for Joel — but far better for Suzie. It’s a nifty twist on our expectations about her bored-wife character and a nice addition to Joel’s agony. After all, someone’s got to stick it to the man.