It’s been ten years since Mike Judge became the white-collar working man’s hero with his cult-hit Office Space. Now, the writer-director is lampooning American life again -- but this time, it’s from the boss’s point of view.
Extract centers on Joel (Jason Bateman), an average guy who owns and runs a flavor extract factory. He seems to have the suburban American dream: a good career, a big house, a nice car and a pretty wife named Suzie (Kristen Wiig). His biggest problem -- at first -- is that Suzie isn’t putting out. She’s inexplicably set their sex life on ice with a nightly deadline for “business time,” underlining the message with pair of grey sweatpants that she ties tightly in symbolic chastity. Amid this domestic disappointment arrives Cindy (Mila Kunis), a mellifluous con-artist who arrives at the factory and makes Joel’s heart (and other things) go pitter-patter.
The movie’s set-up teeters between the tragic and the hilarious -- a familiar scene that could just as easily head down the depressing road of Sam Mendes’ American Beauty as it could swing toward the surreal satire that Judge brought to the society-indicting Idiocracy. Instead, a mix of delicate dialogue, deft acting, running jokes and real-life problems (more or less) allow Extract to walk the line, nearly living up to its comedic promise and reigning in the laughs with admirable sensitivity.
Of course, it’s still a Mike Judge movie. Home-front heartache becomes farce when Joel takes advice from his best friend Dean (Ben Affleck, adorned with chin-length curls), who doses Joel with drugs and booze and suggests he hire a gigolo (90210 cutie Dustin Milligan) to tempt his wife into sin -- paving the way for Joel to pursue Cindy. The ensuing antics, particularly a porn-style, poolside seduction scene, are some of the movie’s best moments. Milligan’s capable portrayal balances beefcake stupidity with authentic earnestness, creating a surprisingly compelling component of the film.
Extract also takes on the professional realm, with all the perceived inanities and pressures that go along with being the big boss (or, as Dean puts it, the “King of Extract”). As Joel’s personal life spins out of control, things get more complicated when a freak accident at the factory injures a worker. Sexy grifter Cindy tries to scam him by cozying up to the injured employee,“Step” (Clifton Collins, Jr.), and encouraging a lawsuit threat that jeopardizes Joel’s chances of selling the company and cashing out.
The factory’s myriad workers, meanwhile, begin to worry that they’ll lose their jobs in the buyout. Throughout the film, Judge lovingly sketches a handful of these stand-ins
for stereotypes that include the persnickety older ladies, the beer-bellied blue-collar guy, the over-pierced, post-punk dude with multiple “grind-core” bands, and a diligent, maligned Mexican man who’s scapegoated when Cindy starts swiping purses. Incensed over the feared injustice of their future, the rag-tag group takes center stage when they attempt to stand up to Joel and demand equity in the company.
In the end, though, Extract is about the man in charge -- whether you believe in his cause or not (Joel laments that not many people think flavor extracts are cool). Our protagonist is ultimately big-hearted and savvy enough to navigate his absurd circumstances, and Bateman’s portrayal is tender enough to garner empathy -- even as he squashes worker mutiny and tempts adulterous fate. Extract may not become the immediate, tangible reference point for the powerful that Office Space became for the cubicle-bound worker bee, but it has enough of Judge’s signature grist to get some