Extract isn’t exactly Cinema Suicide material but I get a lot of solicitations and I’m always looking for something that falls even so much as a foot inside the cult movie spectrum. Director Mike Judge qualifies for this almost appropriate criteria because he has, under his belt, two movies that have both developed respectable cult audiences. Office Space is a picture that speaks for itself. There isn’t an office worker on Earth who hasn’t cracked a Lumbergh quote while on the job. Idiocracy has also managed to build a following based on its hilarious premise and the mysterious circumstances surrounding its weak theatrical release so I figured that Extract, another quietly released Mike Judge feature might follow this trend.
Judge is the kind of filmmaker that I can appreciate. Beavis and Butthead was one of the only decent things to come out of the 90′s and both of his features speak to the same kind of white guy frustration that Fight Club’s nihilistic subtext exagerrated to parodic degrees. Both Office Space and Idiocracy work as flat faced comedies but each one is layered and has a series of mechanics below the surface that make them more than what they appear to be. I was hoping that Extract would follow in their footsteps.
Joel is the owner of a successful company producing flavor extracts for other foodstuffs. Things are going so well for him, business-wise that a larger national food producer is in the early stages of buying him out. Negotiations hit a snag, however, when a Rube Goldbergian chain of production floor mishaps result in one of his best workers losing a testicle. Joel hires a couple of temps to keep the production moving and among them is a gold digging grifter named Cindy. Joel’s life at home is also lacking as his marriage has stalled and he and his wife haven’t had sex in a long time. In a drug induced plan to get himself a pass to nail the new girl at work, Joel, at the insistence of his bartender buddy, hires a gigolo to fuck his wife and from there everything goes wrong.
Extract comes off like the natural evolution of Office Space. Our main character has paid his dues and now in middle age, he’s running the show which brings a whole new set of ordeals with it but where Office Space was a movie that many people could connect with thanks to the universal understanding that working in a cubicle farm fucking sucks, Extract tosses aside the notions of the workplace gauntlet and replaces it with the very idea of middle age being a new kind of battlefield that guys are going to have a hard time with. This is not hard to embrace. Heading into middle age, you’re handed a vacuum sealed package of insecurities that are set to open at an appointed date and many of them are here in Extract but the problem is that the movie is a hectic mish mash of comedy concepts with no apparent connection to one another. There is just so much happening that if you were to distill the picture down to its most essential plot point, it would have easily fit into a sitcom mold, safe for any half hour prime time slot on Fox.
Jason Bateman is probably my favorite comeback triumph of the 2000′s. This guy slogged through the trenches of forgettable TV in the 90′s and even wound up in my hometown in the 90′s doing some community theater, which spoke volumes to me about the depths that an actor could fall. Arrested Development established Bateman as a solid comedy actor capable of being the straight guy in the middle of an insane comic scenario and since then I’ve been pleased to find him just about any role he appears in. Whatever comedy potential he has, however, is nearly wasted in Extract as nothing is terribly developed and his seemingly endless supply of nice guy patience could have been funneled into some prime stack-blowing outpourings of freak out but it never really happens. Through it all, Bateman’s Joel maintains a level head even when trying to navigate the complicated nature of suburban neighborhood diplomacy.
Ben Affleck, wearing what looks like a wig borrowed from the set of You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, acts as our guide through the film’s most formulaic moments. He gets some of the best lines but his character, the stock single guy best friend, dispenses the movie’s worst advice as per his script but he’s a character seen in other movies played by better actors with funnier dialog. However, it’s Mila Kunis and her role as Cindy, Joel’s object of desire, that floats through the movie without any apparent purpose other than to look good on camera. Though she influences much of the action going on behind the scenes, her actions as a thief and con don’t seem to ever amount to much.
On the up side, David Koechner, who you probably know best as Todd Packer from The Office, is Extract’s answer to Bill Lumbergh but rather than take the form of that middle management asshole that you fantasize about strangling he is the suburban equivalent: The violently insistent neighbor; a guy you can’t shake. Ever. However, like most of the movie, his role in the greater proceedings is so unclear that he seems like a character thought up on the set to add even more volume to an already crowded picture.
It’s Gene Simmons who turns out one of the best performances, though. Surprise! Surprise! Yes, the driving force behind the commercial rotation of Kiss turns in a remarkably funny performance as a personal injury lawyer with a thirst for cash and an insistence that you smash your balls in the door. His hair is also the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.
It’s really too bad that Extract falls all over itself because somewhere in this muddled mess is a functional comedy about upper-middle class insecurity. In spite of its dream team cast, nobody seems to belong. It’s not a good sign when one of your funniest moments is an establishing scene involving Hal Sparks with his ridiculous rock star hair explaining the importance of Pat Metheny to a hot chick who just wants to steal his guitar. Bits and pieces of the picture are funny but as a whole it just doesn’t feel like one movie. It feels like scenes assembled based on their remote connections to one another.