Perhaps no other filmmaker understands the working class as much as Mike Judge. His 1999 home video hit, Office Space, has become virtually a documentary since its release ten years ago. Anyone who works from a cubicle farm understands why. In Extract, a noticeably less-focused effort with scattershot laughs, Judge this time tells a similar story from the viewpoint of a big boss with a lot of personal problems. While familiar comedic chords are struck, the film feels unfocused and incomplete.
Jason Bateman, perfectly cast I might add, is Joel, the founder and owner of Reynold’s Extract. They make all those great food flavorings that you never really think twice about. While his business seems successful (there is talk throughout regarding it being acquired by General Mills), his home life is a disaster. Every day he tries to make it home before his wife, Suzie (Wiig), puts on her sweat pants. Why’s that? Because once the sweats go on, there will be no sex. He has an ultra-annoying neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner), who simply won’t take no for an answer. He seeks solace with his best friend, Dean (Affleck, virtually unrecognizable in a beard and long hair). They come up with a plan that will make it okay for Joel to cheat: Hire a gigolo to seduce his Suzie. If she cheats, he should feel fine about cheating. He doesn’t care if she does, anyway. This sets off a serious of bizarre, and sometimes entertaining, hijinks.
Judge has assembled an excellent cast. The issue here is with his script, which, frankly, is often too depressing to be funny. Judge has always riffed best on the everyday working life of working class Americans. Here he loses his way with themes of sexual frustration and infidelity that really aren’t very funny. What do work are the scenes involving Affleck and Bateman, particularly a pot-smoking scene that has to be the funniest of its kind in years. The scenes inside the extract factory feel familiar and none of the characters are half as enjoyable as the trio in Office Space.
Bateman excels in an extension of his Arrested Development role. The man is a master of accurately conveying how we all feel when surrounded by morons. Mila Kunis is also effective as Cindy, a bombshell who just began working at Reynold’s but has a con game up her sleeve. Of the supporting players, Affleck steals virtually every scene he’s in thanks to his slacker attitude and the notion that he believes every piece of advice he gives is the greatest advice ever. Dustin Milligan also reels in plenty of laughs as the clueless gigolo.
Yet somehow is just doesn’t mesh. Perhaps this is how moviegoers felt in ’99 upon seeing Office Space for the first time. It does take multiple viewings to fully appreciate a Judge film, but I’m not so sure this one’s worth it. I applaud Judge for attempting a new angle on his bread and butter of material, but it works best when the focus stays on exaggerating the small things in everyday life that drive us absolutely berserk. Joel’s life contains plenty of that, but it’s often passed over for a theme that Judge should not be tackling.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 91 Minutes
Rating: R for language, sexual references and some drug use.
Theatrical Release: September 4, 2009
Directed by: Mike Judge
Written by: Mike Judge
Cast: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr.