Extract is a perfect title for Mike Judge’s latest live-action comedy — all the essence and flavor of Mike Judge with precious little of his substance.
Judge’s latest send-up of social mischief — this time tackling American ethics, or lack thereof – foregoes the satirical vigor and vitriol of his cult classic, Office Space, and the criminally underrated Idiocracy.
Instead, Judge dilutes a handful of potent comic performances and inspired cringe-worthy scenarios with stoner jokes to pad what feels like a dusty-drawer script.
Extract’s first error is coasting on the nebbish goodwill of star Jason Bateman’s résumé — not that of his character, Joel Reynold.
Joel owns and operates a small-time extract factory, where he sees his longtime love for chemistry play out every day. But he’s grown disillusioned with the daily grind of running a business and the upper-middle-class lifestyle.
Most of his workers are listless, unfocused louts. His talkative neighbor Nathan (David Koechner) works his nerves like a cheese grater. And the sweatpants donned by wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) nightly at 8 p.m. are an off-the-rack chastity belt.
When General Mills expresses buyout interest, Joel sees an exit. But an absurdly freak accident — an amusing, patiently filmed sequence that renders Joel’s best employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), half a man — threatens the deal.
The accident also draws the attention of Cindy (Mila Kunis), a fetching criminal who sets her sights on Step and catches Joel’s eye. In a weak moment, Joel plots with his bartending friend Dean (Ben Affleck) to trick his wife into an affair — thus absolving him of any guilt for moving in on Cindy.
Step isn’t the only thing neutered about Extract, a timid variation on Alexander Payne’s far superior Election. These characters’ moral reprehensions are tamped down in a film that doesn’t bother to be even minimally raucous.
Punchlines that don’t work the first time create a zone-out effect on the fourth attempt — especially in any scene with Affleck, who seems ready to bust up on camera at any given moment in a role better suited for brother Casey.
Any charm of Judge’s lazy-river style — airy and repetitive where Office Space was tight and incisive — quickly wears off. And Extract eventually ambles into a narrative dead end from which Judge himself tries to lift the movie. (Just listen for the guy who sounds like Hank Hill.)
With a cast like the one Judge has assembled, though, there are guaranteed bright spots — few and far between, but still bright.
Bateman’s cocked eyebrow as Joel briefly considers a “melodic grindcore” concert and his response to smoking pot (almost more crying than coughing) display his range of subtle to broad physical humor.
In the vacuous Nathan, Koechner creates such a black hole of social skills that his character’s comeuppance is a perfect, shocking moment. And the dulcet-toned misanthropy of J.K. Simmons (Juno) is welcome in any measure — here as plant manager Brian, indiscriminate in referring to employees as Whatsername or Dinkus.
None of their efforts can save Extract, though, from the ultimate sin in a satire — sentimental third-act treacle suggesting all it lashes out against is really worth saving. Compare Extract’s soft conclusion to the final moments of Office Space, and it’s even more disheartening.
Extract attempts to be a parody about our sense of entitlement — the extract of life, if you will, without the hard work — but it’s neither savvy nor scathing enough to make anything stick. While it’s nice to see Mike Judge’s third live-action film get a wide, reasonably promoted release, it’s a downer that it plays out like a first-timer’s effort.