Extract Review

Mike Judges’s previous work hangs heavy over Extract. Mike Judge is probably most loved for creating Beavis and Butthead but his 1999 film Office Space also has a lot of fans. Office Space is a much loved comedy that since it’s release has garnered a slow burning cult following. In addition to Beavis and Butthead and Office Space, Mike Judge also executive produced the somewhat uneven King of the Hill, the incredibly disappointing The Goode Family and directed the feature film Idiocracy. Although there were elements of Idiocracy that were enjoyable it failed in more places than it succeeded. Released in America last year but in the UK on Friday comes his latest project, the feature film Extract.

Extract stars Jason Bateman as Joel Reynolds, the owner of an extract factory, who is married to Suzie, played by Kristen Wiig. Despite having achieved what could be described as the American Dream, Joel is a self made wealthy business owner with a large house and a wife, Joel is unhappy with his life. The main source of this unhappiness appears to be the unavailability of his wife for sex. There is a running joke throughout the film about his wife’s sweatpants which she wears around the house and ties up tight, effectively signalling that she is not interested in an amorous evening. Joel rushes home from work in an effort to get there in time before the sweatpants are tied. Although slightly amusing the concept would probably sit more at home in a TV comedy or as a sketch than an important plot point in a feature film.

Into Joel’s sexually frustrated life walks Cindy, played by the pretty but bland Mila Kunis, who picks Joel out of the slump he is in. Joel lusts after Cindy as a sexual object rather than as a potential new partner; he even describes her at one point as a bit slutty looking. He sees her as everything his wife isn’t, young, exciting and sexually available. Unbeknownst to Joel though Cindy is a con artist and is working on a long con involving an ex-employee of Joel’s, Step (Clifton Collins Jr), who lost a testicle in a factory accident. Joel is desperate to sleep with Cindy but feels bad about cheating on his wife. His long term friend Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests to him that he should hire a gigolo to try and seduce his wife and if he succeeds then Joel can pursue Cindy guilt free. After accidentally taking some Ketamine, thinking it was Xanax, Joel is talked into this ridiculous idea by Dean and they contact dim-witted gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan). The film then plays out these various plot strands before wrapping them all up in the third act.

That last sentence probably best exemplifies the problems with this film, it is all a little too neat. The plot never goes anywhere too interesting or unexpected and the comedic moments in the film are too often vaguely amusing rather than funny. Like Office Space in many ways Extract feels low key and has a calm casual pace but Extract doesn’t have the stand out comedic moments that Office Space had. Extract also has a collection of characters that I found pretty uninteresting and they often seemed conceited and self absorbed to such an extent that they were hard to care about. Joel, for instance, is clearly wealthy and has a job that for the most part appears quite easy so when obstacles present themselves and he complains it just seems like he’s whining.

The film also doesn’t benefit from the current economic climate. In a time where so many people are being made redundant do we really want to see a film in which the protagonist is a factory owner whose main problem in life is that his wife won’t have sex with him enough. I also couldn’t help but feel that the film would have worked better as a series or even, considering Judge’s background, an animated series where the characters could have been further developed.

The look of the film is also very uncinematic with a style that although one could argue complements the subject matter it is very bland and does little to distance the film from television comedy. One thing that is worth complimenting the film for though is the mostly excellent cast who despite the often simplistic characterisation are enjoyable to watch and bring something to their small roles. Although Bateman is not stretching himself much in the role of Joel he does a good job in the part. Kristen Wiig and Clifton Collins Jr., despite minor roles, do good work and particularly enjoyable, although again only in a small role, is JK Simmons who plays Joels right hand man in the factory, Brian. Brian is anxious to get rid of the factory and collect on the sale so that he can stop worrying about the mostly inept staff who he refuses to learn the names of, referring to everyone as dinkus. Unfortunately the cast are not enough to elevate the lacklustre writing and direction and the addition of Ben Affleck in the role of the stoner friend is something Extract could definitely have done without.

The film’s overriding theme appears to be about the treatment of good looking people in society. Joel at one point comments, “What is it with women? Y’know, they say they say they don’t care about looks – they just want a guy who’s smart and funny – but they always just end up laughing at whatever the good-looking stupid guy says.” There is the obvious hypocrisy in this statement as Joel desires the pretty Cindy, who is perhaps not stupid but has no discernible character traits except that she cannot be trusted. The film’s ending also does little to counter the argument that good looking people will get what they want, although the non-pretty people may feel sorry for them, which you could say is a valid point but one that feels too simplistic and underdeveloped to hang the film’s ending on.

Extract exists somewhere between Judge’s Office Space and Idiocracy; It is not as funny as Office Space but probably funnier than Idiocracy, it is not high concept comedy in the vein of Idoicracy but it is closer on a sliding scale to this than it is to the slacker comedy genre Office Space inhabits and perhaps most significantly it is not as good as Office Space but it is definitely a better film than Idiocracy.

This review was originally posted at HeyUGuys.