Mike Judge’s Extract is a refreshing, puzzling comedy that will probably turn a lot of people off. Much as I wrote that Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 is a rebuke to fans of slasher cinema, Extract goes out of its way to give audiences the kind of comedy that they would absolutely not expect from the creator of Office Space, Idiocracy, and Beavis and Butt-head; that is to say one with few gut-laughs (or intended gut-laughs), but a lot of heart and values. This is American Beauty, minus the nude curls and murder.
If I turned your stomach with the phrase “heart and values”, please understand that Extract is a pretty filthy movie, albeit a devilishly low-key one. The plot centers on Joel (Jason Bateman), the founder/owner of Reynold’s Extract. He works long hours overseeing an assembly line of colorful misfits, and comes home to a sexless marriage with his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig). Joel spends much of his free time lamenting his fate at a local hotel bar, receiving terrible advice from the bartender, Dean (Ben Affleck); advice that includes taking horse tranquilizers and hiring a gigolo to seduce Suzie so that Joel will feel less guilty about sleeping with the new Reynold’s intern, Cindy (Mila Kunis).
Adding to the workplace drama, floor-manager-in-training, Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.), loses a testicle in a freak accident, which jeopardizes Joel’s plan to sell the business. Step decides to sue Joel, at the advice of Cindy, who turns out to be a con artist, playing all sides. If this seems a bit muddy, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned the nosy-neighbor sub-plot or the fact that the gigolo (played by 90210’s Dustin Milligan as a wonderful dim-wit) falls for Suzie. It is a testament to Mike Judge’s writing that the storylines converge and expand without losing their integrity, especially since he’s willing to abandon conventional comedy to tell a particular story exactly the way he wants to tell it.
Which is where he may lose you. I’m tempted to compare Extract’s brand of comedy to that other Jason Bateman vehicle, Arrested Development, but that show was full of consistent laughs. This movie often feels as though Judge wanted to make a film about real people dealing with really strange problems. It’s not a documentary; it’s not a farce; it’s certainly not a drama; but Extract unspools all of those elements into a tapestry of the blandly bizarre. The key difference is that Joel, a prototypical Judge anchor, isn’t surrounded by cartoon characters as was Peter Gibbons in Office Space, or Joe Bauers in Idiocracy. Here, many of the supporting players are recognizable, every-day buffoons; but their cumulative awkwardness, prejudices and failures amount to a “wacky cast of characters”.
When I’d heard Judge was making a film that was purported to be the mirror of Office Space—with a more sympathetic view of management—this isn’t what I expected. I’m finding it hard to even categorize this as a comedy. It’s just a cute, pleasant movie packed with drugs and infidelity.
Part of that pleasantness comes from the fact that Extract is a very pro-American movie. Not in the flag-waiving propaganda sense, but in the way that it showcases the American dream of entrepreneurship. Of the movie’s many sub-plots, the lawsuit’s impact on the factory is the most poignant, and there’s a touching scene between Joel and Step regarding the fate of the workers that subtly announces itself as Mike Judge’s thesis. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Extract provides the balance lacking in Office Space—the notion that managers and employees can actually come together to build something great.
I’m sorry if this review has been wishy-washy; I can’t enthusiastically shout, “Go see this NOW!” But I do feel it should be seen. Extract is almost impossible to categorize, and I think it could either be the beginning of something very important in filmmaking or a forgotten fluke ten years from now. Either way, it made me smile.