I imagine that running an extract factory would be really boring. Similarly, I would think that a movie about running an extract factory would be really boring. That's probably why writer/director Mike Judge decided that his movie about an extract factory would not remotely resemble anything that might actually happen at an extract factory. In his earlier rumination on the American workplace, 1999's Office Space, Judge took on The Man and told the story from the perspective of the cubicle-enclosed drones facing a life sentence of office work. Judge's current labor day riff on the working life has a decidedly 1980s sensibility. The entrepreneurial spirit has not been praised this effusively since Ronald Reagan insisted that it was morning in America. There is also an anti-drug subplot that would make even Cheech and Chong think that they should "just say no."
Site Map The hapless hero of Judge's film is Joel (Jason Bateman), an earnest small business owner and frustrated suburban husband who finds himself surrounded by the absurdly quirky creations of Judge's imagination. The writer who conceived Beavis and Butt-Head (prototypes for the generation of foul-mouthed cartoon kids that would follow), relishes mining the depths of stereotypical banality for jokes that are clever despite their familiarity. And yet, although the audience immediately recognizes the referents for Judge's jokes, his characters are satirical send-ups of the stereotypes on which he relies: the bored housewife and obligatory pool boy who comes with the neighborhood; the working-class joes watching hunting on their pre-HD, oversized televisions; the attractive-in-a-trashy-way gold digger; the racist factory workers; the smarmy trial lawyer; and, most of all, the regular guy who's just trying to get along. Bateman plays Joel with his unique brand of understated incredulity, and sells each of his character's unbelievably bad decisions as effectively as Joel produces extracts--with a patented formula that makes the humor (like the flavoring) seem a touch richer and last a tad longer than similar products.
Judge's talent as a writer is paradoxical. The fact that he gets so many genuine laughs from a story with almost no plot and jokes that originate in the adolescent male id is commendable. I laughed out loud, many times, while watching this film. I laughed in spite of this film. I laughed, even though I ultimately did not enjoy this film very much. I can appreciate that it takes a clever writer, a disciplined director, and actors with developed comedic sensibilities to wring so much laughter out of so little substance.
The film was enhanced by the performances of a veteran supporting cast: J.K. Simmons manages the factory with white-collar disdain for individual workers. Beth Grant, sporting a hair net and oversized spectacles, convinces us that she's just the sort of woman who would proudly carry a rainbow-colored pleather purse. Gene Simmons appears to be playing a version of himself as an ambulance-chasing pariah whose lawsuit threatens to bankrupt the extract company. Mila Kunis toys with every man in the film, holding them captive to her over-pronounced, barely of age feminine wiles. Kristen Wiig yearns for her husband's attention and knots her around-the-house sweatpants as if she was closing the cell door on a convicted felon. But perhaps the most inspired casting of all is Hollywood pretty-boy Ben Affleck as Joel's friend Dean, the scruffy bartender/drug pusher at the local Marriott whose new age platitudes immerse Joel in the preposterous chain of events that comprises the film.
To reveal any more about Extract would rob you of the movie's appeal--laughing at the aptly-written jokes that form the foundation upon which each improbable scene is built. Should you go see this movie? That depends. If you like jokes about "mid-body injuries" and stereotypical depictions of the working poor, then there's much for you in Extract. If not, then you may agree with this observation, made by Butt-Head in a contemporary You Tube promotional video for Extract. Reacting to Beavis's enthusiasm for aspects of film's plot, Butt-Head implores, "shut up, you're like part of the problem now, or something."
Recommendation for this film: Skip It
K.V. Anderson's Recommendation Key:
- Screen It Worth your time and your dime. See it in the theater.
- Stream It Watch it at home on DVD or download.
- Skip It You'd be better off channel surfing.
copyright 2009 K.V. Anderson. All rights reserved.
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