There is something refreshingly innocent and simple about the world of Mike Judge. Whether it’s the plainspoken Hank Hill drinking beer in the back alley with his old high school buddies in the now-defunct (sadly) TV series “King of the Hill,” or two moronic teenage boys guffawing at their television screen in “Beavis and Butthead,” Judge is the master of finding humor and humanity in the mundane - and even the stupid. And he pulls it off yet again in his latest movie “Extract.”
Writer/director Judge (a UCSD graduate who delivered the commencement speech just this past June -- see
) enjoys the humdrum existence of the everyday worker, his best example being the 1999 “Office Space,” which continues to grow in cult status. This time he moves outside the cubicle and into the life of a small-sized factory that manufactures flavor extracts. Joel (Jason Bateman) founded the company and runs it with efficient pride. He even knows his factory workers by name. Unfortunately, the job has taken over his life, and his marriage to wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) has slowly transformed into a listless “brother/sister” relationship.
Joel’s libido, however, is stirred when Cindy (Mila Kunis), a beautiful, young temptress, is hired at the factory and quickly starts to stir up trouble. This is precisely the point where Judge turns on his magic because, what ensues next, is thoroughly unbelievable - even unpalatable. Yet, for whatever reason, it all still feels so sweetly innocent.
We’re talking some really bad stuff here: illegal drugs (and possibly the funniest pot smoking scene in recent history), male gigolos, adultery, theft, accidental castration and really, really bad advice from Joel’s slacker best friend, Dean (a bearded Ben Affleck, eating up the role with good humor). Just like in “Office Space,” when he made embezzlement and a bad work ethic something worth adoring, Judge makes all of these distasteful acts simply funny and forgivable.
Judge clearly likes to deal with “real people.” The kind you relate to and the kind who drive you absolutely crazy in everyday life, whether it’s the woman in the cubicle next to you, the neighbor who won’t leave you alone, or that slack-jawed teenager who can barely remember to finish his sentences. They’re all represented in “Extract” in such an understated way that you can only shrug and accept them, just like you do in real life. And once you buy into the little world Judge has created, well, it’s that much easier to go along for the crazy ride the characters find themselves on. (Another brilliant example of this is Judge’s vastly underrated 2006 comedy “Idiocracy.”)
Bateman is as likable as they come, and his character does not stray far from his most notable role in the beloved TV series “Arrested Development” as Michael Bluth, a down-to-Earth good guy surrounded by a group of dolts who continually mess things up for him. But the Bluth character had at least one intellectual equal in his son, George Michael (Michael Cera). Unfortunately for him (and for us), Joel has no such luck. Everyone in his life is a complete dufus. His employees, his business partner, his best friend. You have to wonder why a guy like this, a smart, pleasant man with a thriving business, doesn’t have more friends with actual brains in their heads.
And what about his wife, Suzie? For most of the film, her purpose is to coldly deny Joel sex and drive him into the arms of another woman. Even as the plot evolves - almost entirely around her - she remains a peripheral character, until three-quarters of the way into the film when she suddenly emerges as a human being that you might actually see a nice guy like Joel wanting to be married to. But still, you buy it because, well, you want to.
Though “Extract” lacks that certain something to elevate it to Mike Judge cult classic status (see “Office Space” and “Idiocracy” if you haven’t already), it actually ends up feeling like a nice, simple story (with some crazy turns) of a man who lost the spark in his marriage and his purpose in life and, in the scope of things, the little journey he goes on to figure it out. Personally, I’d save that trip to the theater though, and happily enjoy his journey on my DVD player on a Saturday night.
- Rated: R
- Grade: B
- Opens Friday