Fri 4 Sep 2009
I know why you dig me. It’s the scraggly beard, isn’t it?
Building a reputation for comedic success is a double-edged sword. Sure, it frees one up to do more work and gain some control over the creative content. It also raises expectations and leaves a smaller margin of error. Unfortunately for writer/director Mike Judge, after being a part of a sea change in the comedic landscape with the birth of “Beavis & Butthead”, “Office Space” and even “Idiocracy” (which is underrated and way underseen), he has fallen back to the mortal plane with “Extract”.
Another workplace comedy, though this time from the boss’ perspective, the elements necessary to bake a delicious comedy cookie are all here. Judge knows how to find comedy in the everyday routine we all endure and the cast are perfectly suited to their roles, each bringing a great energy to their roles and creating memorable characters.
Jason Bateman rarely misses the mark and strikes all the right notes here. He’s a simple, good guy – led astray by his well-intentioned but morally questionable best friend (Ben Affleck in a role that works well for him). Bateman plays all of the ensuing chaos with a great balance of comedy and drama, making the character something relatable and sympathetic for the audience.
Kristen Wiig does a nice job as the bored housewife, whose lack of sexual interest spurs on the bad choices Affleck is able to convince Bateman of as the film progresses. This element brings in Dustin Milligan, who has been in plenty of projects but never stood out as much as he does here. He delivers one of the funniest performances of the film and manages to create perhaps the sweetest moron in cinema this year.
The factory staff are all very well cast as well. J.K. Simmons does so well at blunt humor and being a lovable curmudgeon. Clifton Collins Jr. continues to impress me with his versatility (try comparing this to his excellent performance in “Capote“) and Beth Grant is one of my favorite character actresses, always delivering hilarious oddballs so ensconced on their high horse that no amount of reason or discourse could persuade them to alter any of her beliefs, no matter how inane or backwards.
Oh, and Mila Kunis playing the object of everyone’s desire – constantly playing up her sexuality – is well received by this reviewer. Her comedic timing here feels a little off but the point of her character is to tempt and confuse the men all around her so it’s a big success on that level.
How then, with such a good cast, can “Extract” fail to live up to expectations? Simply put, Mike Judge should have had another pass or two at the script and thought out the story resolution a bit more. This toes the line between criticism and personal preference but it sticks out so much because the manner in which the plot unfolds doesn’t lend the final scenes with any believability.
(Warning, the next two paragraphs could be considered spoilers, though nothing specific is mentioned.)
After all this time watching incompetent employees and dumb friends make a mess of everything, Judge decided to play for the happy/sappy ending and completely change up the direction of the film. The whole point of “Office Space” was having the worker drones realize the difference between career stability and happiness.
When you’re making a film that is told from the opposite perspective, making the boss such a goody-two shoes (no matter how much his employees don’t deserve it) fails to make much sense. The only lesson to be learned here is that suckers can always be played … which would be fine if there was an edge to this lesson.
Alas, there is no underlying satire or truth that can be gleaned from watching “Extract” and I’m afraid I can only muster up a 2 out of 5 for the film. There are some very funny lines and scenes within the project but the pieces don’t all fit together and what’s on display is a bit of a jumbled mess.
It’s possible that the film will grow on audiences after repeated viewings (as his previous films have done with me) but I never felt so underwhelmed after intially watching any of Judge’s previous work and so I hold little hope for a gradual gaining of appreciation here. If you’re a big fan of his work, I’d say it’s best to wait for the DVD rather than spending a week’s wage on the theater experience.