In the Shadows of Apatow
Mike Judge Needs to Make More Features
By Cole Smithey
As prolific as writer/director Mike Judge has been throughout a stellar career which includes such television staples as "Beevis and Butt-Head' and "King of the Hill," it's to his detriment (and ours) that he hasn't done more feature films. "Office Space" (1999) became a cult classic after the fact of its failed theatrical release. "Idiocracy" (2006) did the same in spite of its mistreatment by distributors. With "Extract" Judge crafts a solid comic narrative base for a flavoring-extract company run by sexually frustrated owner Joel Reynold (well played by Jason Bateman). Reynold's staff of barely competent blue-collar workers set off a chain reaction accident that climaxes with a severed testicle for would-be floor-manager Step (Clifton Collins Jr.). Step falls prey to the con-artist attentions of Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sex-kitten opportunist determined to help Step sue the Reynold Extract company right out of business. Joel adds to his headaches when, in a drugged-out state, he takes his barkeep pal Dean's (Ben Affleck) bad advice to hire a gigolo to sleep with his sexually closed-off wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), so that he [Joel] can then cheat on Suzie with impunity. The tone of the comedy is spot-on but Judge never manages to bring the humor to a boil. There are chuckles to be had and even a few belly laughs but "Extract" can't help but pale to Judd Apatow's work that has set the bar high for this kind of comedy. Nonetheless, you get the sense that if Mike Judge made more pictures, he'd hit his stride alongside the likes of Apatow pretty quick.
As with most directorial choices, it's casting that makes or breaks a production. Jason Bateman is Mike Judge's coup de grace that smoothes over every narrative flaw with so much character putty that you hardly notice the film's wavering tone of workplace humor being co-opted by marital dysfunction. Batemen, whose acting career began in the early '80s on television's "Little House on the Prairie," has such a deft comic touch that his mere presence in a scene guarantees a lively degree of humor.
Where "Extract" misses is in the nature of workplace relations that Judge surgically exacted in "Office Space." J.K. Simmons plays Brian, Reynold's office manager who can't be bothered to remember his employees names. Brian's deep-seeded contempt the company's aggressively lazy workers is mitigated by the promise of a sell off, but it's a character that begs for a confrontation that never comes. The promising sell-out deal is delayed by Step's accident, that threatens to leave no company for Joel Reynold to sell, much less at a huge profit. Judge makes a concession to the factory placed comedy in a rip-roaring scene with Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) playing Step's ambulance-chasing attorney Joe Adler who proposes a medieval solution to resolving the case inside the factory's glass-walled conference room. Adler's demonstrative physicality makes the employees mistake him for a barnstorming corporate raider threatening their livelihoods, and they take tentative group action toward striking. The scene falls flat, and feels a little too much like it was lifted from this year's other blue-collar based comedy "New In Town."
By focusing on Joel's flailing marriage, Mike Judge errs on the side of romantic comedy, when he needed to pay more attention to the film's ostensible premise about the kind of factory that Patti Smith sang about in her devastating protopunk song "Piss Factory." "Extract" is missing that punk edge that, however disguised, Mike Judge is known for. He just needs make more movies to find it.
(Miramax) Rated R. 90 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)