Extract opens Friday throughout the Triangle
Mike Judge will never be confused with Woody Allen. However, each shares an affinity for satirical comedy drawn from the nuances of their respective habitats. Allen, of course, is synonymous with New York, a city that reliably loves him back as he churns out a film a year.
While Allen resides on the Upper East Side, Judge lives in the lower, lower west side: Texas, in the workaday malaise of the American heartland. In contrast to the prolific Woodster, Judge's sparse résumé is a product of his renowned, sometimes inhibiting, perfectionism. The creator of
Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill has directed only three live-action feature films; one of those, the star-crossed Idiocracy, is seen by some as Judge's attempt to revisit Allen's Sleeper. In Extract, Judge's talent for toeing the line of caricature without stooping to condescension is again on display. The film's sardonic look at the workplace milieu immediately recalls Judge's other live actioner, the cult fave Office Space. Jason Bateman plays Joel Reynold, the owner of a flavored-extract factory beset by professional and personal woes. Joel yearns to sell his company and cash out for an early retirement, but a proposed deal with General Mills is threatened when an employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) sues after losing a gonad during a workplace accident.
At home, Joel is trapped in a sexless marriage, always arriving home just beyond the 8:00 deadline, after which his frosty wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), cinches up her sweatpants for the evening and settles in to watch Dancing with the Stars. Joel whiles away his nights at the local watering hole, where Dean (Ben Affleck) serves up drinks, half-baked if well-meaning advice and assorted pharmacological remedies.
Within the aimlessness depicted in this film, there is a grifter named Cindy (Mila Kunis) who's looking to cash in on whichever poor sap she can seduce. There's also a lunkheaded gigolo named Brad (Dustin Milligan) who takes his charge of seducing Suzie way too enthusiastically.
Bateman proves a worthy foil for scene-stealers Affleck, David Koechner and Gene Simmons (yep, that Gene Simmons) as a slimy, ambulance-chasing lawyer. However, the talents of Kunis and Wiig are underused, while Collins, J.K. Simmons and the rest of the supporting cast fill flat, one-note characters.
Throughout Extract, allusions to America's eroding manufacturing base, attitudes toward Hispanic laborers and the tenuous institution of marriage waft from Judge's script. Such pointed commentary is somewhat superfluous: There's enough social commentary in our recognition of the cliques that drive the assembly-line setting, or the annoying, nosy neighbor (David Koechner) who always seems to flag Joel down as he arrives home from work and never stops talking as he pesters Joel to accompany him and his wife to a local Rotary dinner with $55 tickets he'll have to buy.
Most intriguingly, while Joel is a white-collar guy who drives a Beemer and lives in a gated community, he's represented as ultimately more dysfunctional than the redneck who swills Pepsi out of a 2-liter bottle while watching The American Outdoorsman on his rear-projection TV. With this film, Mike Judge comes off as a working man's Woody Allen ... or a kinder, gentler Judd Apatow. Too bad he doesn't make nearly as many movies.