Workplace Comedy Extract Labors for Laughs
- Friday, September 04, 2009
DVD Release Date: December 22, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: September 4, 2009
Rating: R (for language, sexual references and some drug use)
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Mike Judge
Actors: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristin Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr., Dustin Milligan, David Koechner, Beth Grant, Gene Simmons
The TV creations of writer/director Mike Judge—Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill—are, for better or worse, late twentieth-century milestones in American culture, and Judge's talent for capturing the cultural zeitgeist has occasionally transcended the small screen. Who hasn't shared the frustration with the office fax machine, or with an annoying boss, endured by the lead character in Judge's big-screen comedy Office Space?
Judge is back with Extract, his first film since the little seen Idiocracy in 2006. That film played in only a handful of theaters, whereas Extract is opening across the country for Labor Day weekend—a fitting time for another Judge comedy set in the workplace.
Jason Bateman stars as Joel, owner of Extract, a flavor-extract company on the verge of being acquired by General Mills. The eccentric group of employees who work for Joel include Mary (Beth Grant), a busybody who doesn't hesitate to badmouth her co-workers; Hector (Javier Gutiérrez), the quiet object of Mary's contempt and suspicions; Rory (T.J. Miller), a heavy-metal fan; Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), the victim of a workplace accident that threatens to derail the General Mills deal; and Cindy (Mila Kunis), a thief looking to take advantage of Step and thereby cash in on any potential lawsuit he might bring against the company.
The tics and mannerisms of the Extract employees are mildly amusing, but it's Joel's life outside of work that generates most of the laughs in Extract. However, a warning: The film centers on a troubled marriage and an adulterous affair—not the usual stuff of family comedy. The couple works through its troubles, but the price paid is steep.
Here's what happens. Joel, feeling sexually deprived by his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), takes the advice of his bartender friend, Dean (Ben Affleck, in a low-key, very funny performance), and hires a gigolo to seduce Suzie. That way Joel will feel justified in having an affair of his own. "What could be wrong about that?" Dean asks, rhetorically. "She's the one who sinned."
It's a twisted idea—fueled by alcohol, prescription drug abuse and marijuana—that Joel comes to regret when the gigolo (Dustin Milligan) falls in love with Suzie and keeps showing up at Joel's house, unable to limit his encounters with Joel's wife. Joel pursues Cindy but soon discovers her plot. He tries to warn Step that her false affections disguise her true intentions, and to somehow save the company from ruin.
With so much of the attention surrounding the movie focused on Judge, it's easy to overlook the film's strongest element: another fine comic performance from Jason Bateman. Bateman, a TV actor as a child (Silver Spoons, It's Your Move), has blossomed in recent years into an actor of exquisite comic timing and expression, best embodied in the uproarious Ron Howard-produced sitcom, Arrested Development. Over the course of its three seasons, Bateman perfected his role as the unflappable Michael Bluth, trying to manage the financial affairs of his eccentric family.
Bateman's Extract character, Joel, shares some of Michael Bluth's traits and challenges. Like Bluth, Joel is tasked with managing assets while trying to assuage a group of malcontents.
Bateman carries the film ably, but the trouble with Extract is its lighthearted treatment of serious subjects like prostitution and adultery. Yes, the movie has some laughs and ultimately upholds marriage, but its discussion of infidelity is never very serious. And, although some viewers might connect Joel's poor decision-making to his depicted drug use, the scenes of Joel getting stoned will be seen by most viewers as larks without serious consequences. Most offensive of all is the name of the band of one Extract employee, displayed on the employee's T-shirt and repeated more than once. If your ears can take that, the rest of the movie should be no problem.
Extract is better than some of the coarse R-rated comedies this year like Observe and Report, and Funny People, but it's also surprisingly insubstantial given its moral content. The film does offer a few mild laughs, but the potentially offensive material is abundant (see "Cautions" below). It's hard to see how the film could be considered edifying. The best that can be said for Extract is that it could have been a whole lot worse than it is.
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