It should be noted that I have not seen Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic, Office Space. While it’s on my very long list of movies that I want to someday get around to seeing, I don’t see that as being a problem for reviewing his latest film, Extract.
In this offbeat comedy, Jason Bateman plays Joel Reynolds, the owner of a factory that makes food flavouring extracts. He has to deal with a gaggle of hapless employees, a sexless marriage, and the temptation to cheat on his wife (Kristen Wiig) with an attractive young temp at his plant (Mila Kunis). Joel’s only friend, a spacey bartender named Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests that Joel tempt his wife with an attractive young gigolo (Dustin Milligan). If she takes the bait, Dean figures that Joel is free to pursue an affair with his employee, Cindy.
But unbeknownst to Joel, Cindy is actually a con artist, hoping to capitalize on an unfortunate accident that left one of Joel’s employees, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), in a position to sue the company. The impending lawsuit puts the company’s chances of being bought out – and Joel’s hopes for an early retirement – in jeopardy.
If that sounds like a lot of plot for a silly 90 minute comedy, it’s probably because it is. Extract is a film that would have benefitted from fewer characters and subplots, and more concentration on the humour aspect. There are funny parts, but this movie stalls several times when it’s trying to squeeze in all of the necessary plot points. And after all of that story, the movie still doesn’t feel like it’s really about anything.
But even though Extract is thrifty with its laughs, it does find a lot of humour in everyday people and circumstances. From Joel’s unrelentingly annoying neighbour to the young metalhead working at the extract factory, you’re bound to recognize people that you know in the characters. Joel himself is a very real character, and therefore a very flawed person. He’s kind of like a less likeable version of Bateman’s Michael Bluth on Arrested Development. But Bateman plays the character expertly. His sense of timing and sarcasm is impeccable, and it’s great to see him get a lead role.
Though I’m not much of a Ben Affleck fan (except when he’s directing Gone Baby Gone), I thought he was actually pretty funny here, even if the “dumb stoner” shtick isn’t exactly a new concept. He brings some likeability and zest to the role that’s needed in a film like this, which is so wry that it’s almost devoid of emotion.
Mila Kunis is given virtually nothing to do in this role, other than standing around and looking nice. Cindy started off seeming like an interesting character, but she’s soon shuttled to the background. We never learn anything about her story, and the “con artist” plotline goes in the most expected directions. Kristen Wiig isn’t given much screen time or material either (though she makes the best of it), which is ridiculous, considering what a huge comedic talent she is. Having a good cast is important, but it’s also irrelevant if you don’t play to their strengths.
Extract is a mixed bag. Its observational humour is spot-on at times, but the physical humour involving crotch-shots and black eyes falls totally flat. It suffers from too many characters, and often gets too wrapped up in half-baked storytelling. Bateman really helps to save the movie, and I like that its going for a subtle brand of humour. But in the end, there just aren’t enough laughs to make it a must-see.