Extract (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Extract (2009)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTExtract is a stirring example of awkward comedy gone wrong.  It's a tricky balance to pull off since awkwardness, by it's very nature, doesn't leave the audience feeling very comfortable.  Not the most stunning insight in the world, but its something that you have to keep in mind when these kinds of comedies are being made.  There are moments where you just stare at the screen wondering why anyone decided that various scenes would be funny instead of painful.

We have a lead in Jason Bateman who's been prepared for this kind of comedy for a long time.  He had to play the straight man in Arrested Development for a few years so he knows his way around an awkward situation or two.  In Extract he plays Joel, the owner of a company that deals in flavor extracts, and lives in one of those neighborhoods that look like a perpetual hell of boredom and well manicured lawns.  One day there's an accident at the plant that leaves his employee Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) short a testicle.  The amount of mileage that Extract tries to get from the man's lost ball is a little embarrassing, and never congeals into a joke that's funny.

In the other corner we have Mila Kunis as Cindy, a small time con-woman who sees her opportunity to make a lot of money off of the situation.  She plays the seduction card in a very coy way and gets a job at the factory to get close to Step.  In the meantime, she's conning everyone for a bit of money here and there until she can get Step to file a lawsuit against the company for his accident.  Mila continues to impress the hell out of me in her roles.  Here, she portrays her charmer like she escaped from The Lady Eve and somehow ended up in the suburbs.  What I can see from her so far is that she can give any role a lot of sensible weight despite the circumstances, and continue to look forward to the next time I can see her in anything.

What does work is the way that life in the factory is presented.  Everyone has their petty grudges and hurls accusations at each other over the assembly line.  Each one of the workers has their time to shine.  There's the old religious lady who accuses the Mexican workers of theft, the thrash guitarist who just wants someone to bring some girls to his show, and Joels' partner played by J.K. Simmons.  He's another one of the bright spots in the cast, giving all the workers the same nickname and deriding them for their exceptionally bad performance.  The scenes in the factory aren't particularly funny, but they're insightful and aren't terribly hateful.

The big problem with Extract is that despite all these little touches, we don't have much to get behind.  Bateman has the everyman quality that's needed for Judge's movies to work, but it doesn't help the fact that he is really mean to his characters this time.  All the supporting folks are just fine, but Joel is an instrument of undeserved torture in this one.  In one particularly distasteful story thread, Joel hires a gigolo to have sex with his wife so that he can try and have an affair with Cindy.  On paper, this might have seemed like a decent idea and might have been funny if Joel wasn't so much of a self-absorbed person and his wife so nice.

By this point in his career it's pretty clear that Mike Judge doesn't really have much tolerance for modern life in offices and suburbs but there's nothing to hold onto.  In Office Space and Idiocracy we had what were, essentially, decent folks put in bad situations then act accordingly with a few jokes to laugh every so often.  Extract just has someone who doesn't seem to really appreciate anything and plots to make things worse.  Then the characters that are annoying aren't doing so in a particularly amusing fashion.  Aside from Ben Affleck's stoner spiritualist and a brilliantly ingratiating David Koechner, none of these annoyances say or do anything very funny.

So I ended up with a null set in the end, not a good result for a comedy.  I didn't quite hate it, the spots that are good could have been excellently used in a different movie.  But Judge's one note approach on the despair of the working man hammers in the point relentlessly until I had to throw in the towel and give up.  I hope that he's gotten all the mileage he can out of this path, because its appeal has pretty much run dry.

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Extract (2009)

Written and directed by Mike Judge.
Starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons and Ben Affleck.

Posted by Andrew

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