Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Review: Extract

Extract ** ½
Directed By: Mike Judge.
Written By: Mike Judge.
Starring: Jason Bateman (Joel), Mila Kunis (Cindy), Kristen Wiig (Suzie), Ben Affleck (Dean), J.K. Simmons (Brian), Clifton Collins Jr. (Step), Dustin Milligan (Brad), David Koechner (Nathan), Beth Grant (Mary), T.J. Miller (Rory), Javier Gutiérrez (Hector), Lidia Porto (Gabriella), Gene Simmons (Joe Adler).

Extract is a smart, subtle comedy that is perhaps too subtle for its own good. It is a comedy that is full of good performances, and smart writing, and yet for some reason the film never really takes off. It sits there on screen, the time passing pleasantly enough, and yet we never really get involved with the action of the film. It is a comedy that made me smile a lot, but never really made me laugh. It is a film that is just not quite good enough.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, the owner of a successful company that makes extract. In university, he created an additive that allowed extracts to maintain there full flavor even as they are cooked. His company is doing good, judging on his car and his house at least. He is married to Suzy (Kirsten Wiig), but they are not really having sex right now. She spends her days working from home designing coupons. Their neighbour Nathan (David Koechner) is the type of neighbor everyone hates. He is friendly and plesant to a fault - he sits outside his house, and when he sees Joel come home from work every day, he comes over to have a conversation. No matter what Joel says, Nathan will simply not leave him alone.

Joel’s only friend outside of his factory is Dean (Ben Affleck), the kind of affable, immature drug smoking friend that many guys are never really able to let go, no matter how much they should. Things go wrong at the plant, when a freak accident takes off one of Step’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) testicles and leaves the other hanging by a thread. When con artist Cindy (Mila Kunis) sees the story in the newspaper about it, she decides that she should get close to Step, convince him to sue the factory, and then cash in on the money. She even gets a job at the factory to get closer to the action, and starts flirting with Joel. Joel, who is horny as hell, really wants to sleep with Cindy, but feels he could never cheat on Suzy. Unless, of course, she cheated on him first. Dean knows a guy named Brad (Dustin Milligan) who is young, dumb and a gigolo. If Joel hired Brad to sleep with his wife, then Joel could sleep with Cindy guilt free. Of course, things do not work out quite like Joel hoped they would.

The film is written and directed by Mike Judge, who started in animation with the brilliant Beavis and Butt-Head and the even more brilliant King of the Hill, before moving on to live action films. His first film, Office Space, is a masterful comedy about life in cubicle hell, that while it was not popular on first release has become a huge cult hit. His second film, Idiocracy, was all but abandoned by the movie studio, but was an equally intelligent comedy about the culture of stupidity that is invading America in all areas. Extract strikes a similar tone to both of those films. It is not a film that relies solely on one liners for its comedy, but on the characters and their lives to find humor in their everyday reality. Yes, the situations are absurd, perhaps even cartoonish at points, but what underlines that comedy is actually quite true to life.

Extract, like Office Space, gets the mundane nature of day to day just about right. The employees at the factory are all quite dumb and set in their ways. They grow frustatrated if others in the plant are not doing their job, so they simply decide to stop doing theirs as well. Joel and Brian (JK Simmons), his right hand man, try to keep everything running, but with this staff, it’s downright impossible. Like he did for three seasons of the brilliant Arrested Development, Jason Bateman is very good as the calm at the center of the storm, just trying to keep everything straight. As things spirial further and further out of control, he becomes increasingly harried and frustrated. What makes the difference between his character here, and in Arrested Development, is that in this film, he is the maker of his own downfall. His is miserable, and from some reason fixates on Cindy on his way to be happy again. She is seemingly perfect in everyway, and yet she is just a woman, and cannot save him. This is a refreshing change from her work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where not only did she seem perfect, she actually was perfect, and did manage to save the hero.

While I cannot point to a specific scene or even moment in this film that speaks to its underlining flaw, but I can also not really say anything that the film does really well either. It’s one of those films that sits on screen as you watch it, mildly amused, but then completely forget about by the time you reach your car. I cannot say that Extract is a bad film - it isn’t - I just really cannot think of any real reason to recommend the film either. It’s a decent film, nothing more, nothing less.

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