Directed by Mike Judge
As both a cult hero and a criminally under-beloved comedic auteur, Mike Judge has had an interesting career. Both Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill have secured an incredibly loyal fanbase, with the latter managing to air for 13 seasons on Fox despite being endlessly clever and funny. And, though it flopped on its initial release, Office Space ranks as one of the best comedies of the past decade. Given these three properties represent the first three things Mike Judge did, it’s reasonable to assume the man could get a little respect. Which is why it seems downright, well, Fox-y, that Fox didn’t give Idiocracy, Judge’s feature follow-up to Office Space, a chance to fail of its own accord, releasing it to a meager 130 screens with no publicity to speak of.
It’s a bit of a mixed blessing that Judge’s new film is in the loving hands of Miramax. Promisingly, they do seem to be giving Extract a proper, mainstream-tilted ad campaign. So bless Miramax’s heart, but the promotion for this film is, well, awful — right down to this unbelievably lame poster. Don’t let all that fool you, though; the movie is good – Mike Judge good.
Jason Bateman capably plays Jason Bateman, here named “Joel,” an extract factory owner and sexually frustrated husband to Kristen Wiig’s Suzie. A factory accident kicks off a string of misfortunes, including further sexual frustration for our hero, while beautiful drifter Cindy (Mila Kunis) blows into town just in time to capitalize on the tragedy. It’s a simple story–Idiocracy aside, Mike Judge doesn’t peddle high-concept. He finds the humor in the archetypes of the mundane, and, thanks to a population of almost universally well executed supporting characters, Extract occasionally achieves the nine-to-five relevance of Office Space.
Ben Affleck continues his societal atonement for Gigli by being downright fantastic as Dean, Bateman’s laid-back bartender pal. Dustin Milligan, a man I have never, ever heard of before, is hilarious as dimwitted gigolo Brad, a character who seems to have stepped right out of Idiocracy. You’ll immediately recognize David Koechner’s Nathan as your pitiful chatterbox neighbor. Spot on, too, is Matt Schulze’s Willie, who serves as a welcome reminder that stoners come in all shapes and sizes, and Gene Simmons manages to transcend the gimmick of casting Gene Simmons by being unsettlingly funny as Joe Adler, attorney at law.
The marquee names aren’t as funny, but turn in completely acceptable performances. Bateman is as genial a lead as you remember from Arrested Development. Kristen Wiig isn’t given much to do beyond speak in her adorably flat cadence. Mila Kunis is still a charming actor, but her character is first and foremost a plot device.
Extract will garner a lot of comparisons to Office Space–some in this review–which is a good point of reference, but it unfortunately won’t benefit from this approach. Both are workplace comedies, ramshackle, and plotted like Falling Down on barbiturates, but Extract lacks some of the universality and iconic performances of Judge’s classic film. As such, the social satire that has permeated all his previous work feels comparatively muted here. Fortunately, Judge’s humor is still embedded deep within the fabric of the characters, so the comedy is constantly on. And while it may not be as satisfying a film, at least upon first viewing, it’s just as affable and genuine. Not Apatow genuine, mind you – Judge is much more of a caricaturist – but his caricatures are just as uncanny as ever.
This isn’t an ambitious comedy, nor is it all that long (again, unlike Apatow’s comedies). Viewers will be split on the merits of this film, as they have been with all of Judge’s previous work. But it’s still his film, filled with endearingly dimwitted characters, vulgar humor and an unmistakable social perception. Time will only tell how popular this film will be among Judge devotees, but with a little luck (and Miramax’s help), it should find the mainstream audience it deserves.