0097 | Extract

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After the comedic quality of his satires Office Space and (to a slightly lesser extent) the troubled 2006 film Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s fourth film, Extract, is something of a let-down. Less scathing than its predecessors, it does have its moments but ultimately it suffers from a dearth of laugh-out-loud lines and memorable characters. Writer / director Judge again enjoys himself by poking fun at the dim-witted, but it felt so vicious and sustained in Idiocracy that Extract‘s limper, less vitriolic attacks pale in comparison.

Given the problems Judge experienced in getting Idiocracy into cinemas, perhaps we should just be thankful that he hasn’t found himself at the top of a Hollywood-wide blacklist, and that he is still able to make films at all. Idiocracy was all set to be released into a standard number of theatres in 2006 but only opened in seven cities in the USA, and disappeared shortly thereafter. 20th Century Fox did nothing to promote the movie – no trailers, adverts or press kits were sent out – and it was reported that the studio suits were overly concerned about how the more scathing, withering depictions of corporations would play out with Fox and NewsCorp’s potential sponsors and business partners. After all, in the world of Idiocracy, a sci-fi comedy set 500 years in the future, you can order handjobs from Starbucks employees to go with your frappuccinos … and it’s difficult to imagine Starbucks liking that one.

Judge had built up a fanbase, though, and since its release on DVD Idiocracy has been enjoyed by many, but it’s no surprise that Extract was released by a different studio (Miramax). Jason Bateman stars as Joel Reynolds, the founder and owner of a small factory that produces flavouring extracts. His marriage to Suzie (Kristen Wiig) has become sex-free, his employees seem incapable of working together like adults and his best friend Dean (Ben Affleck) is in the habit of giving him terrible advice.

When a series of accidents occur at the factory one of Joel’s employees, Step (Clifton Collins Jr), ends up losing a testicle. As a result two people try to take advantage of Step’s condition: con-artist Cindy (Mila Kunis) and a shark lawyer named Joe Adler (played by Gene Simmons of Kiss, without make up and with tongue fortunately hidden). All of this threatens to derail an ongoing takeover of Joel’s company and also causes several of the plant’s workers to strike. Meanwhile Dean somehow manages to talk Joel into paying dumb gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan) to sleep with his wife, so that Joel can then cheat on Suzie with a clear conscience. Naturally this scheme backfires.

Judge intended Extract to be a companion piece to Office Space, but it is more like an inferior sibling. The principal problem is the lack of clear target: where Office Space mercilessly ripped into cubicle culture and petty bureaucracy, the attempts to mine the factory floor for laughs fall flat. There are a couple of jokes at the expense of the blue collar fork-lift truck drivers, packers and line operators, but they’re not particularly clever, or original, and the characters are poorly-drawn stereotypes. Judge’s success in the past has partly been achieved by attacking stupidity in a clever, drole fashion, but here he resorts to unconvincing slapstick and weak white trash stereotyping, which simply doesn’t have the same effect. There are some wittier jokes regarding racism towards Mexican employees, but they quickly run out of steam.

Darts are also thrown at the USA’s claims culture, which you would think would be perfect as a target for Judge’s satire, but it feels like the lawyers and money-men of the film are let off the hook with nothing more than a few half-hearted jibes aimed at them. The lawsuit and takeover also feel secondary to the other strands of the plot that take place concerning Joel’s private life; Gene Simmons’s cameo as lawyer Adler falls flat, but that could well be because the character is completely underdeveloped, and while his bouffant hairdo might raise a laugh or two, none of his lines do.

Some of the jokes do work, thankfully. The best moments involve Joel’s use of the gigolo Brad to try and trick his wife into cheating: in true Judge style Brad has a low IQ, and is seemingly unable to follow simple instructions. To cap it all he ends up sleeping with Suzie over and over again, but Joel amusingly keeps on paying him each time, enraged by the idea of Brad sleeping with his wife for free.

Bateman is adequate as the nice guy factory owner, but no-one in the cast really stands out, and that perhaps is down to the lack of quality writing as much as anything else. Affleck’s Dean is a pothead barman with pseudo-spiritual leanings, coming across as a mix between The Dude in The Big Lebowski and Diedrich Bader’s best friend from Office Space, Lawrence, but is a pale imitation of both. In true wacky-friend-sidekick style he is supposed to provide many of the laughs, but Affleck appears to be holding back in his performance a little, and the character fades from memory as soon as the film ends. By the end of the film Affleck and Bateman only have Cheech and Chong-level stoner gags to work with, which is a real shame, especially as they seem to tackle them with little conviction.

Kunis is ostensibly the love interest for Joel, and she plays a smart thief, but it’s difficult to shake off the feeling the character has been written in to provide a spot of eye candy. Judge’s leading ladies tend to be given characters to work with that amount to little more than a middle-aged man’s fantasies, so it’s no real surprise that Cindy has been written that way, even though it is frustrating. Wiig is underused yet again (a phrase that is becoming overused, ironically). Best of the supporting bunch is Anchorman‘s David Koechner, playing an irritating neighbour who seems to constantly harangue Joel about one thing or another in the driveway of Joel’s house.

Extract is actually quite a light, watchable film, even if it can be summed up as a movie containing a handful of sub-plots meandering about in search of an actual main plot. Unfortunately, and more importantly, it is nowhere near as funny as Judge’s previous efforts, and this time round his attack on unintelligent people simply feels a little mean, rather than a necessary blast across the bows of dumbed-down culture or workplace foibles. Certain elements are in place that are ordinarily required to make a good comedy, but it’s lacking in focus, and could have done with being a touch more offensive, or bilious.

The Basics:

Directed by: Mike Judge
Written by: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Year: 2009
Rating: 3.6

[On a slight tangent, this blog is one year old today. You can send all cake and other gladly-received donations to Popcorn Towers, London, England. I'm sure it'll all get here OK. Thanks to everyone that drops in for a read, whether it's often or not, and even if you regularly do so while sitting on the toilet. I don't mind. Really, I'm not fussy - it's all very much appreciated. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed at least five or six of the several hundred thousand words that I've bashed out. If you're interested this was my first post.]

17 comments
  1. A bit of a let down after Office Space and Idiocracy, but there’s still enough satire in here to make it worthy of Judge. Nicely judged review.

    • Thanks Mark, completely agree. It’s still identifiable as the same guy, just not quite as strong.

  2. Happy birthday to your blog! As for the movie, I’ll be happy to skip it after reading the review. So glad I haven’t wasted time on it before.

    • Thanks Keith. I guess with all comedies it’s subjective depending on your sense of humour. I guess some people will really like this film as a result.

  3. Happy blogiversary!

    And I agree with Keith. I’ll go ahead and continue skipping this one.

  4. I felt the same way about this one as you did, and I couldn’t have said it better; the best my two friends and I could come up with to describe it were as follows: bland, plain, odd, kinda funny, and sorta friendly. And I was hoping for a lot more, considering Mike Judge and Jason Bateman were involved. And congrats on one year! NOW you must shoot for 100 reviews…and I think it’s time to throw something thoroughly ghastly up there, like ‘The Creeping Terror’ or ‘Eegah’.

    • ‘Bland, plain, odd, kinda funny and sorta friendly’ is about right though. I just wasted a couple of hours when I could have just said that!
      Thanks for the congrats – I have not seen either of those but a quick search tells me that Eegah is a must! In fact this blog has been quite light on horror films to date, so maybe I’ll watch one or two soon.

      • That’s what every review on my new site is going to be…eight words or less. And for even more hilarity, you can follow up your viewing of ‘Eegah’ with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version!

  5. I’ve yet to see Office Space Stu but I hear good things about it and I enjoyed Idiocracy and really like Judge’s sense of humour. I seen a trailer for this one z while back back had completely forgotten about it. I’ll check it now, though.

    And a happy blogiverssary to you man. Has that been a year already? Time sure flies but it’s good to see you hanging in there.

    • If you like Judge it’s probably just about worth a watch Mark. I really liked those earlier two and this definitely isn’t of the same standard, but it’s not a complete write off either by any means.
      Time does fly! Cheers. Still feel like a young pup when I see other people’s archive sections!

  6. CMrok93 said:

    Judge felt like he was sleeping while making this flick. Sure, there were some moments of actual hilarity, most of which come from Affleck, but overall, it felt like a weak-attempt at trying to make something along the lines of Office Space, but at the same time, not really. Either way, didn’t totally work for me. Good review.

    • Thanks Dan. I guess it’s hard to come up with three brilliant comedies in a row. Hopefully we see something on a par with Office Space and Idiocracy soon.

  7. ckckred said:

    Nice review. I’ve always been a fan of Judge and am surprised how under-appreciated a lot of his work has been (King of the Hill never received much attention and Idiocracy is very overlooked). However, I have yet to see this and despite an appealing cast I think I’ll skip it. Also, happy anniversary!

    • Thanks Charles. I must admit I’ve never really watched King Of The Hill, which is a shame as I know a lot of people who say the same as you. It’s a shame about Idiocracy’s fate. I need to go back and re-watch it, I remember a lot of it being hilarious.

  8. ruth said:

    I quite enjoyed this one when I saw it a while back. It’s so freaking hilarious and Affleck has some scene-stealing moments that prove he’s got comic timing. That scene where he said ‘daaamn’ when he first saw Mila Kunis is hysterical!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Ruth … I did too I guess, to an extent! I like Affleck in some of the early Kevin Smith & Linklater films too, he’s pretty funny in those even though he plays it straight.

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