Chapel Hills 15, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
The movies of the American workplace would be worse off without the skeptical empathy of writer-director Mike Judge. As his cult favorite Office Space revealed what life was like among white-collar worker bees in the '90s, Judge's new film, Extract, is about being the boss of blue-collar rubes today. It's not a pretty picture. But it is funny.
Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) owns a mid-sized flavor-extract factory in a mid-sized American city. He came by it honestly, through enough hard work that his marriage has suffered. If Joel's not home by 8 on any given weeknight, and he's usually not, he'll have missed the sweatpant deadline. That's the moment in the evening when Joel's wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who works as a designer of coupons, slips into sweatpants and cinches up the waistband so tightly that she might as well be putting on a chastity belt.
Now, because the people who work for him tend to be idiots in need of frequent assistance, and his chatty neighbor (David Koechner) tends to ambush him with inane conversation in the cul-de-sac, Joel never seems to make the deadline. That's why, as he so woefully puts it, "We're turning into one of those brother-sister couples." What's a sexually frustrated entrepreneur to do?
What Joel does is let his wastrel hotel-bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) dope him up with horse tranquilizer and talk him into hiring a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife. If Suzie takes the bait, they figure, it'll give Joel license to go after Cindy (Mila Kunis), his hot new factory temp, with impunity.
Speaking of dubious plans, Joel also hopes to sell his company to General Mills and retire early. For this he has full support from his second in command, Brian (J.K. Simmons), who can't even be bothered to remember their employees' names.
But there are obstacles — like the fact that Cindy is a gold-digging con artist, who slyly encourages the hapless victim of an entirely preventable assembly-line accident to retain an aggressive personal-injury lawyer, played by Gene Simmons of Kiss.
These facts may incline you to suppose that Joel isn't much more than a rube himself. But in the live-action Mike Judge movie continuum — a drolly drab universe of regular, decent-enough dudes getting so bogged down by lives of quiet desperation that they go numb and act dumb — he's about average, actually.
Extract is about average, too: less timely and exact than Office Space, but less creaky and wild-swinging than Judge's Idiocracy. As a sketch-like trifle built from well-observed details, it pretty much splits the temperamental difference between Judge's cartoons: subtler than Beavis and Butt-Head, broader than King of the Hill. This isn't to say that Extract is too generic to be entertaining. But it is so easygoing that sometimes it can seem aloof.
What matters most, as always with Judge, is characterization. Here, it's as much a function of casting as of writing and direction, and all the actors — principals and supporting players alike — make their little bits of business go a long way. Sure, there are flashier, more adventurous movies out there, but this one puts in an honest day's work.
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.