Extract: Mike Judge Comedy about the American Workplace

Even when his films are not entirely successful, which is the case of his latest, aptly titled comedy, Extract, the gifted writer-director Mike Judge deserves credit for tackling a domain that most directors steer clear of, the American workplace, with all its problems (incompetence, complacency), joys, and eccentricities.

 

In “Extract,” which Miramax will bow this Friday in what’s Judge’s widest and most legit release to date, the filmmaker returns to the working territory, shifting his perspective away from the white-collar cubicle occupants of “Office Space” towards the blue-collar ones.

 

“Beavis and Butt-Head” and the animated series “King of the Hill” were Judge’s breakthrough works, but it was “Office Space,” a decade ago, which put in him on the cultural map with “the little film that could,” a comedy about “ordinary” people living “boring” lives, which, despite mixed to negative response became a cult item when it was released on DVD. (I am partial to Judge’s 2006 futuristic farce “Idiocracy”).

 

The protagonist of “Extract” is Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman), a small business owner who seems to employ mostly oddballs, such as losers, loners and misfits in his flavor extract factory.  Like other Americans of his socioeconomic status, he seems happy and balanced.  After all, he’s the boss of a business that he had built from the ground up, specializing in patented brand of culinary extracts.

 

The home front represents another story. His wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) has not been of late particularly amorous or even interested in his company. Sexually frustrated, Joel confides in his best friend Dean (Ben Affleck, barely recognizable with long hair and bushy beard), a drug-addict bartender, not fully realizing the consequences of his act.

 

Soon, he finds himself involved in a convoluted scheme to make Suzie cheat on him, first with a dim-witted gigolo (Dustin Milligan), which gives him the freedom to court the gorgeous new employee Cindy (Mila Kunis of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” fame) with less guilty conscience.  However, unbeknownst to Joel, the object of his affections is a con artist bordering on being a sociopath; she’s a short distance from having her parole revoked.

 

Not neglecting the business side, Joel and second-in-command Brian (J.K. Simmons) enter negotiations for a buyout of Reynold Extracts by General Mills.  All they need to do is keep things tidy, quiet and moving while waiting for the final offer.  Except that their plan doesn’t take into account the colorful employees on the factory floor.  What a wild and eccentric bunch they are. Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.) is a machismo-ridden doofus and self-proclaimed “fastest sorter” with lofty aspirations of rising to Floor Manager. Rory (T.J. Miller) is a goth-rock geek who spends more time passing out flyers for his band than shuffling extract bottles. Mary (Beth Grant) is a lazy, fanny-packed, bitter slouch at the end of the assembly line who would rather fold her arms and shake her head than keep life at Reynold moving along. Indeed, when a bottleneck occurs on the line, it leads to a chain of accidents that, among other things, threaten to tarnish Step’s masculinity (a testicle is involved…)

 

Seeing a big payday, the con-artist temp woos the otherwise-loyal Step, convincing him to sue for millions, engaging bus bench lawyer Joe Adler (KISS’s Gene Simmons) to “fight for his rights,” regardless of the fact that doing so will cost Joel the factory.

 

Judge is known for his dry wit, sharp characterization, and good ear for witty dialogue, but in this picture, the various parts (some of which very funny) don’t gel smoothly into something more coherent and funny.  Sharply uneven, the material is too episodic and sketchy, without a workable cement to hold the bits together.

 

The film, which is better conceived and written than directed, benefits form its large ensemble of talented thespians, who have made their mark on the small and/or big screen, such as Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Clifton Collins, Jr., T.J. Miller, Beth Grant and Gene Simmons.

Good production values account for the creation of a vivid and colorful milieu, which is particularly crucial for a comedy dealing with flavors.