September 5, 2009

Extract (9/05/09)

Lettergrade: B-

If you look at it purely on a story / plot level, Extract doesn't really have a lot going on, but then neither do Mike Judge's other pictures: 2006's underrated Idiocracy and 1999's cultural milestone Office Space. The pleasure of those movies (and this one) is not in what happens as much as Judge's warped perspective on the world and the people who populate it. His characterizations, usually made up of slackers, dimwits, and stoners, get huge laughs because they're not that far off from people you probably know or at least have met.

The movie isn't likely to have the same cultural impact that Office Space did. Even the tag line of that picture - "Work sucks" - struck a deep cultural chord that even now, 10 years later, resonates with me and everyone else I know who has to work for a living. Nevertheless, Extract is a pleasant farce and certainly worth having a look at when time permits.

The schmucky every-man in this one is played by Arrested Development's Jason Bateman, who owns an a small flavor extract company in small-town California. He's in a sex-deprived marriage with Kristin Wiig, and thinking about selling his business to a larger corporate parent. That's complicated by an accident at work which claims an employee's testicle, followed by the arrival of con-artist Mila Kunis who secretly encourages said employee to sue instead of settling. Bateman immediately lusts after Kunis, but feels terrible about wanting to stray from his marriage. One night, his bar-tendin' buddy played by Ben Affleck (in what might be his finest screen performance) helps Bateman come up with a brilliant plan to hire a kid to seduce Wiig, thus freeing Bateman's conscious to lust after Kunis.

Bateman, Affleck, and Wiig are all expertly cast, but as with Judge's other movies, it is the many wonderful bit parts that often steal the show, particularly David Koechner as an annoying neighbor, Dustin Milligan as Brad, the faux pool-cleaner, and Matt Schulze as an intense pot-dealer who only has one scene.

I will say, however, that in spite of the incisive comedy the loose plotting does drag the proceedings down a little. If I think about it, I can vaguely recall that the last third of Office Space mainly revolves around a failed embezzlement scheme, and contains very few laughs. Idiocracy, after a killer first 30 minutes, falls apart much earlier - around the time President Camacho shows up. Extract is a bit more "even" than those movies... the laughs probably aren't as big, but at least they cover the picture from head to tail.

As with his other movies, the production value is a little sparse, and nothing about the way the film has been made feels terribly cinematic -- almost as if it's a movie that Judge decided to make around his neighborhood with his friends. Nevertheless, I think this serves as a good illustration to my continued theory that comedy is often a little funnier when it feels kinda cheap.

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