Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Mike Judge is back to work, and everyone immediately wonders if it's the next Office Space. That's a lot of pressure. Many of you, for good reason, don't remember Idiocracy, Judge's directorial follow-up to Office Space, a poorly received cult questionable whose greatest strengths lie in attention to detail (I give it the same grade I gave this movie). While at least I think that attention to minute, comedic detail should be more appreciated in modern comedy with so few writer-directors dedicating their energy to it (and more instead to the Apatow-style, hey-I-can-relate dialogue comedy), the area that often suffers as a result is plot. Extract is a little watered down that way. Judge can no doubt nail the down-on-his-luck, more-than-meets-the-eye middle-ager incredibly well, but it's often the build-up of this character that staggers under that weight. The only attribute that can keep the hero steady is a strong ensemble.
Cult fanboys should delight that Jason Bateman pops up in a very "Michael Bluth" role. Joel suffers from the same googley-eyed delusions as Bluth, shouldering a struggling family business, Reynolds Extract, while enmeshed in personal drama that nearly brings down the struggling food flavoring manufacturer. A freak accident to a reliable Joe Blue Collar — detailed hilariously with a token "Cletus" backwoods name (Step) and a dilapidated living room full of empty Pepsi two-liters juxtaposed by a tank of a big-screen TV (priorities) — addles Joel and the assistant manager, J.K. Simmons with a short temper for the "dinguses" on the factory floor, and the two prepare for the worst amid rumors of a buy-out or a bankruptcy.
Awkward situational humor sputters along. Ben Affleck plays the goofy, shaggy bartender friend whose ill advice comes with a cornucopia of prescription drugs. He sets conflict in motion by dosing Joel with Special K and convincing him he should hire a gigolo to woo his withholding wife (aptly mumbled by Kristen Wiig minus any schtick), so that Joel can be free to engage in an affair of his own. Bateman's played like a fiddle as the geek strung along in a couple of amusing drug escapades.
Brad the gigolo (Dustin Milligan) is a hilarious dim bulb who never stops trying to promote his freelancing, despite fudging his only gig. Joel's lame confrontational skills play out when he can't control the gigolo he foolishly hired or keep his annoying neighbor (the unsettling David Koechner) off his lawn and out of his face.
Mila Kunis as Cindy bobs and weaves through the plot and subplots as "criminal drifter" who preys on her admirers. I spent the greater deal of this movie invested in what I thought her character was going to do next, thinking she was setting up for something big, but she fooled me nearly every time; I wasn't exactly pleasantly surprised, because Cindy lacked the depth of her plunging neckline. Her best scene opens the movie when she wheels and deals with stereotypical Guitar Center dudes, but her worst shows her folding too easily when Joel finally nails a successful confrontation.
Subtle screen gems pop up here and there: a dead-on assembly line of middle-aged lady gripers and possibly legal immigrants, rubber-faced cameos, and a pot dealer musclehead who doesn't know when to let a gag go.
Extract relies too much on a premise so dull it has to be good, but the gamble wasn't worth it, and the movie ends as ambiguously as how I felt about it for the last two days. The stuff of Netflix queues, people.