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Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons

Directed by: Mike Judge

Produced by: John Altschuler, Michael Rotenberg

Written by: Mike Judge

Distributor: Miramax Films

     Cult comedy helmer Mike Judge’s films have always put me to sleep, what with their comatose, middling tones and apathetic characters. But don’t jump on me for that just yet. Yes, I understand Judge’s trademark style is very much part of the point – to represent the boredom and inanity that often plagues working-class life and, in turn, makes people stupid. But, aside from Beavis and Butthead—where that message rings oh-so-true from the get go—I don’t find that Judge’s films have the substance to back the style up. In other words, had Office Space or Idiocracy told me anything profound about why they looked and flowed the way they did, beyond surface ideas and cheap laughs, then perhaps I would have thought more highly of them.

     With Extract, Judge finally has the material to support his usual presentation, both in terms of social commentary and comedy. But you might have to look twice to notice just how profound the movie can be, because damn, the pace is still as reflective of the Middle American laborer’s plight as could be.

     But again, Extract is observant and snarky in all the right ways. For evidence of this, look no further than the first character the audience meets, Cindy (Mila Kunis). Strikingly beautiful, she leaves two music store sales reps speechless as she inquires about a potential birthday gift for her boyfriend, only to send them to the back so she can steal a guitar to pawn. In this relatively simple opening, Judge breaks a lot of ground. When was the last time we’ve seen a woman as drop-dead gorgeous as Kunis portrayed as a downright bad person? Outside of “evil” comic-book villains like Sienna Miller’s Baroness in the recent G.I. Joe (who we end up liking anyway despite their awful plots), we rarely see an attractive female portrayed as just everyday, no-frills bad. This immediately brings Judge’s commentary on what working-class life can do to people front-and-center: Cindy might look like an A-list celebrity, but she’s no better for it than any of her uglier counterparts.

     That’s not to say Judge demonizes the virtue of working one’s way up in a capitalist society; in fact, that he has made so many comedies on the topic shows that he values the ideal at least to some extent. (That said, he does frequently acknowledge the unavoidable fact that certain people are destined to stay at the bottom of the totem-pole.) Capitalism per se has worked well for protagonist Joel (Jason Bateman), who Cindy goes to work for in an elaborate plot she schemes up to scam a co-worker out of malpractice earnings. Joel owns a profitable factory that manufactures the title liquid additive. Despite his eagerness to sell to a big corporation, Joel is a well meaning business-owner who’s passionate about what he does, employing a lot of otherwise-talentless folks and treating them fairly. As much as Extract shows that it can be ugly and stupefying to be “the little guy” in America, it’s just as often a pleasant rebuke to all of the recent news headlines victimizing He who turns a profit.

     And then there’s the little, perceptive details of the movie that ring true, many of them taking me back to the days I worked for minimum wage at the local multiplex with a cast of similarly depressing and, in several cases, just plain dumb characters. Take, for instance, Mary (Beth Grant), the factory’s conveyor-belt operator, who has it in for the new Mexican employee. She fails to do her job whenever he gets behind, so as to punish him by forcing pallets of extract to collide and climactically fall off the assembly line. Dare I assert the subtle, humorous way Judge conducts these scenes says a lot more about the state of racism in the American workforce than didactic works all about the subject, like Crash?  If that’s too stretched a suggestion for you, then what about the couple of scenes in which Judge muses at how dependent on exorbitant amounts of Pepsi some of us have become? You can’t find a more corporate product than the two-liter bottle of soda, and yet the very same folks who embrace this technology the most are those who get pissed when corporations become so efficient they no longer need them as workers. This is telling, interesting material for a film that has been billed as a lighthearted comedy.

     However, I will not neglect mentioning that Extract is indeed, at its heart, a comedy that’s often very, very funny. Most of the big laughs come from a plot Joel devises over a drug-addled night with the overly friendly local Marriot hotel bartender, Dean (Ben Affleck). Convinced that the deceitful Cindy has the Hots for him and that his longtime marriage with wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) is on the rocks, Joel decides it’d be OK for him to pursue an extramarital relationship with the hot twentysomething if he knows Suzie would do the same. He accepts Dean’s offer to hire a male gigolo—really the dumb-as-a-doornail young “landscaper” Brad (the very promising Dustin Milligan)—to pose as the new pool-boy and tempt Suzie into sex. Needless to say, Brad knows nothing about pool-cleaning and Suzie is a lot hornier than Joel might like to think. Some—namely Roger Ebert—have doubted the plausibility of these scenes, even in the film’s comic realm, but I never even questioned them. I laughed the whole way through—harder than I have at any movie all year during one sequence.

    Then there’s a role that the Gene Simmons sinks his teeth into more than Mike Tyson did his riotous turn in The Hangover, but it has to be seen to be believed.

     And yet, as good as Extract seems in retrospect, I’ll admit I’ve left movies I’ve liked less feeling more enthusiastically. Judge’s style really represents a Catch 22: it’s necessary to set a template of working-class life in his films, but working-class life is indeed so utterly boring that it can’t help but make the thinking viewer get impatient. The only crowd it clearly works for is the fan-boys who love Judge’s surface jags, like the over-quoted stapler line in Office Space. This is especially interesting to consider within the context of Extract, which has so few of said jags, especially if you take the Affleck character out of the picture. Nonetheless, it’s an unexpectedly dense movie once one works through Judge’s signature tone, offering rewards aplenty. I might not have been gushing immediately after I saw Extract, but I certainly am now, as I think about Judge’s growth as a filmmaker and how his future projects will reflect it.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.7.2009

Screened on: 9.5.2009 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


Extract is rated R and runs 90 minutes.

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