Comfortable and Furious

Extract (2009)

I really want this movie to succeed, and I want the best for Mike Judge – really. Office Space has become a tremendous cult classic for good reason, and if you can get past the people you hate who still quote it endlessly, it is a sharp and funny movie where every single supporting character brings their A-game. Idiocracy was one of the best comedies made in recent years with peerless writing and a wonderfully – and realistically – cynical view of the future. Both films also received a half-hearted release by studios that bore the hallmarks of passive-aggressive sabotage, resulting in guaranteed failure.

Well, Judge is giving this film thing another go with Extract, and the outcome is hit-and-miss at best. While realizing that this damns Extract with the faintest possible praise, it is the funniest film out right now. Like his other films, the writing is fairly good, supporting characters are given a chance to shine with perfect comic timing, and the lead is solid. The plot, however, is aimless, and the overall effect is less inspired than Office Space and Idiocracy for reasons I will discuss later. That being said, your money is better spent here than with just about anything else in release right now.

Jason Bateman gives another excellent performance as the owner of a flavoring extract factory who is hoping that General Mills buys his company so he can have more time to himself and hopefully start having sex with his wife again since she has lost interest in him for unspecified reasons. His daily routine is frustration given human form, as his employees are dimwitted at best, his greatest hope is to sell everything to a corporate giant that will likely tear down his life’s work just to erase a competitor, and his wife is more interested in Dancing With the Stars than fucking her husband.

Life in America, where selling out and awaiting death is about all that you can look forward to. And as one would expect from a Mike Judge film, even this is too much to hope for, and any good news is only prelude to another disaster. Due to a workplace incident, an employee will be suing him with a lawyer famous for bus stop ads (played by Gene Simmons), which will block any potential buyer. Every action leads to further disappointment and humiliation, and the only refuge is a small sports bar run by Ben Affleckin the shadow of a Mariott Hotel.

The supporting cast really makes Extract come alive. David Koechner plays a relentlessly annoying neighbor who is immune to the suggestion that he fuck off immediately. His timing is impeccable, and results in a character that you see every day, and into whose skull you would pump two bullets and that night peacefully sleep the sleep of angels. A racist white lady who works in the factory will babble endlessly on about how she is the hardest worker in the factory, and takes plenty of breaks to press home this fact to her coworkers. Any attempt to get her to work properly is met with an obtuse defiance, and the comment that the owner always sides with the dirty Mexicans. Ben Affleck is actually not bad as a stoner friend who hooks up Bateman with drugs and a gigolo to seduce his wife so he can cheat without guilt. Lastly, the gigolo is a hilariously thick asshole who appears spliced out of Idiocracy, and happily offers to plow the wife as long as he gets a referral out of it. Mila Kunis is adequate, playing a con artist who seeks a piece of the aforementioned lawsuit.

The whole background is filled with people who are given some memorable dialogue they can run with. The trouble is with the foreground, namely a story that really doesn’t go anywhere. Entertainingly frustrating disasters become easily neatened loose ends as most everything goes back to normal for our protagonist. There are sly comments on the soulless nature of corporate life and the chains that appear to fill our vision in all directions, the dull stasis of domesticity, and the bitter truth that ambition must always be met with quick punishment by fate.

Though Extract is funny in fits and starts, this is Mike Judge’s weakest film for one reason: it lacks a central theme. Office Space was biting in its examination of how the soul-sucking nature of a corporation would bleed you dry and leave behind your lifeless husk, behooving you to get out to take a real job or steal everything you can when possible. Idiocracy was practically a documentary on the demonization of intellectualism and where this will lead in the coming years. Both themes provide fertile ground from which jokes could sprout endlessly; the films appeared to write themselves.

Extract lacks such a theme, and so runs out of gas and settles for an ending that would fit into a sitcom. There is a story here, and perhaps the suggestion that one should avoid being too enterprising, and keep one’s head down inside the trench to survive. It is possible that after two attempts at brilliant and caustic films that were killed inside the womb by nonexistent marketing, Judge has decided to work with a safer, more palatable vision. Don’t get me wrong – the film is funny, and entertaining enough, though very little will stay with you once the credits roll.

If this movie flops despite an honest attempt at release by the film studio, you can expect Judge to come back with something closer to Ass: The Movie. And eventually he will, since you, the viewer, refuse to reward quality by going to the theaters to see something interesting, risky, or superior. Fart and dick jokes, mindless CGI, gay panic, and dumbass action rule the cinema because kids are stupid enough to support them with their parents’ money. The only way to guarantee that films for adults continue to be made is if you get off your cheap fucking ass and go, plunk down hard-earned cash, and vote for something good. Or continue to allow increasingly stupid kids to dictate the terms of our culture. Either way, you get what you deserve.