REVIEW: Extract

6 09 2009

We so often find humor in the ridiculous and far-fetched, and Hollywood serves it to us (actually, more like force feeds) at a rate that is more than we can digest.  But Mike Judge has a unique ability to find humor in the mundane, especially in the work place.  His 1999 film “Office Space” has become a cult classic over the past decade thanks to its smart satire of the workplace atmosphere.  However, his latest film, “Extract,” is really lacking flavor (pun fully intended).  It is too caught up in banalities to really succeed and perhaps even too lifelike for its own good.

The humdrum happenings center around Joel (Jason Bateman), the owner of an extract factory trying to sell out to General Mills.  However, the deal is threatened by a workplace accident in which a worker loses a part of his “manhood.”  To top that off, he has to deal with constant unrest among the workers, thievery, and a very attractive new temp (Mila Kunis) who becomes an object of lust.  But Joel has many problems outside of work to deal with, including his wife’s (Kristen Wiig) elastic sweatpants chastity belt, a pill-popping friend (Ben Affleck) intent on proselytizing, and an incessantly blabbering neighbor (David Koechner).

We get the distinct pleasure of watching an ordinary man, with problems not so far removed from our own, see his life spiral out of control.  Some argue that pain is humor, but not here.  Pain is pain.  There is nothing fun about watching Joel agonize over adultery or deal with the consequences of taking drugs.  If he had woken up with a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet, I would have been all for the ride.  But instead, he wakes up with a cheating wife and a beleaguered conscience.  Where’s the fun in that?  We expect these honest portrayals of boring life in a drama; the great Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out.”  To Judge, comedy is life with a good portion of the dull bits left in.  It is a marvel to see him reconstruct a few dreary lives, but it is truly disappointing to see how he fails to infuse much humor into any of them other than Ben Affleck’s Dean.  For me, the only fully realize character was Koechner’s obnoxious neighbor, who was portrayed with such subtle brilliance that it forces everyone to reminisce about that person we all know who refuses to take our hints to shut up.

If writing a movie review is a science, then I need to incorporate the uncertainties into my report (at least that’s what my physics teacher would argue).  I know that I am not the target audience of “Extract.”  I have never worked in a dead-end job that I loathe, nor have I ever experienced sexual frustration with a spouse or had to deal with the effects of decision made while under the influence of narcotics.  Obviously, Judge did not tailor the movie to appeal directly to me, and I understand that.  I would much rather him make an honest movie that hit home for those who can relate to the central conflicts than to the teenage blogger naïve to what he will have to face in the working world.  For all I know, there could be a lot of humor that flew right over my head.  I doubt it, however, because I heard little more than mild chuckles from my theater, which was compromised of mainly adults.

With “Office Space,” Judge showed us that he is capable of producing a movie that resonates even to those who can’t relate to it, and it is painful to watch “Extract” fail to clear the bar.  I think that the key differentiator between the two movies is that “Office Space” manages to incorporate a bit of absurdity into the plot, making it ridiculous yet plausible.  “Extract,” on the other hand, paints a portrait of a stale life without leaving any room for humor.  Maybe it was Judge’s vision to show the working world with unabashed honesty that he did not want to misrepresent it by adding some belly laughs.  But if it was, he should not be masquerading it as a comedy.  C- / 1halfstars


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One response

7 09 2009
Andrew

I freaking love Koechner. If his subplot was the main plot, the movie could have been awesome…or at least good.
Nice review!

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