At Showcase and Quality 16
2.5 out of 5 stars
Thanks to his TV series “King of the Hill” and the cult classic film “Office Space,” which he wrote and directed,
Mike Judge has been the secret liaison between Hollywood and the blue-collar working world for more than a decade. No one else in the movie business can showcase Joe Sixpack’s frustration toward the way the world works like Judge. That’s why many rejoiced when it was revealed that, after a brief foray into dystopian satire with “Idiocracy,” he would return to the workplace with “Extract.”
It should have been expected that “Extract” wasn’t going to touch the genius of “Office Space,” but there was still reason to hope. The film features a stellar cast headlined by “Arrested Development” star Jason Bateman, whose straight-faced anxiety seems perfectly suited for Judge’s world. And the plot mixes familiar workday drudgery with a crime tale — Mila Kunis (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) plays a promiscuous con artist. There’s also an element of the surreal: The story is set in motion when a worker in Bateman’s vanilla extract factory loses a testicle in a freak accident.
There’s also a point where Bateman hires a gigolo to seduce his wife (Kristen Wiig, “Saturday Night Live”) so that he doesn’t have to feel guilty about having an affair. With material this deliciously dark, it would seem Judge has finally found his element again.
But all these disparate ingredients never come together. “Extract” lacks both the satirical bite and naked ambition of “Office Space” — a film that set out to destroy, not merely mock, the people and companies that profit from the misery of cubicle dwellers. The film was so effective because it was so angry. “Extract” lacks that essential anger.
Part of the problem may be that Judge asks the audience to sympathize with the boss instead of the employees. Yes, Bateman’s Joel is apparently the world’s least sadistic boss, and his workers are so stupid they need “Life for Dummies” books. But he still lives in a nice house with a pool, he gets to entertain the idea of retiring young when a larger company offers a buyout and he gives a speech that makes it clear he’s truly passionate about manufacturing vanilla extract. So despite all his complaints, he must still enjoy his job.
There are moments when the movie does get riled up in a Lumbergh-like manner over some of its characters, and those are the moments when “Extract” truly shines. David Koechner (“Snakes on a Plane”) portrays the overly friendly neighbor from Hell, and comes closest to the classic Judge flavor. Every time he says, “Oh, Joel, one more thing…” the audience can feel Judge’s hatred toward annoying neighbors everywhere. The factory workers all have their moments, especially the overly pierced forklift driver (T.J. Miller, “The Goods”), who plays in a Goth-metal band called God’s Cock and tells everyone to “bring some chicks” to his shows.
The creativity behind these characters is almost enough to make up for Ben Affleck’s hippie bartender character who (of course) acts as Bateman’s spiritual adviser and drug pusher. The lame, forced kookiness of his character doesn’t do anything for the story, and by the time he accidentally slips the straight-laced Bateman a horse tranquilizer, he seems to be nothing more than the product of rare laziness from Judge.
The best satire works because the author has a desire to bring about change, which is why “Office Space” worked so well and why the very hit-or-miss “Idiocracy” occasionally made contact. “Extract” doesn’t have anything to be angry about, which is why the film never rises above the somewhat-amusing level. Hopefully for his next film, Judge brings back his trademark blue-collar bite.