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Who’s the boss? (l-r) Bateman and Kunis in Extract.

That’s Just Nuts

By John Brodeur

Extract

Directed by Mike Judge

When most successful Hollywood comedies are nothing more than a series of groin punches, it’s hard to see a place for a filmmaker like Mike Judge, whose slow-but-sure approach to comedy—on fine display in his latest film, Extract—marches smartly out-of-step from the ongoing parade of ball gags. Better said, the writer-director recognizes that the comedic nut-shot is an art, and not to be taken lightly: His last film, Idiocracy, was, more or less, a feature-length commentary on society’s infatuation with all things lowbrow (see that film’s fictional TV hit Ow! My Balls!). And while Extract does land one massive blow below-the-belt, it’s one of the least funny parts of the film. It is, in fact, a plot device.

Joel (Jason Bateman) is the successful, self-made owner—the “extract king” as one cast member calls him—of a factory that produces boutique flavor extracts like root beer, and cookies and cream. The plant is close to selling to a larger company, says his right-hand man Brian (the indispensable J.K. Simmons), which would allow Joel and his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) to retire and live out their dreams. But all is not as rosy as it seems: Joel is sexually frustrated by his “brother-sister marriage” with Suzie (a running gag has him racing to get home before she cinches the drawstring on her sweatpants); his annoying neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner), has him close to committing vehicular homicide; and his workers, led by soon-to-be floor-manager Step Wilkinson (Clifton Collins, Jr.), seem poised for a revolt—if only they were competent enough to stage such a thing. Things go awry when Step sustains a “mid-body injury” in a freak workplace accident, postponing the impending sale and causing further frustration. And when “hot in a working-class way” intern Cindy (Mila Kunis) turns up, Joel finds himself in search of an excuse to have an affair.

The whole thing seems like a neat flip of Judge’s cult hit Office Space: blue collar instead of white, sympathetic to the employer rather than the employees. But it’s not quite that simple—Judge doesn’t single anyone out. Everyone is equal, and equally flawed. Even dimwitted, job-seeking “gigolo” Brad (Dusin Milligan) is given a fair shake. It helps that he’s funny whenever he’s onscreen. Same goes for Ben Affleck as bartender/“healer” Dean, Joel’s best buddy and confidant—it’s almost unfair how many great lines he was given—and Gene Simmons as personal-injury lawyer Joe Adler (“the guy on all the bus benches”).

Judge displays the same feel for the complexities, and absurdities, of human nature as he has for so many years on King Of The Hill. From the grousing old ladies on the factory floor to the slack-jawed Sam Ash employees in the opening sequence, these are people we’ve met in real life, not caricatures. They may be dullards, or racists, or grindcore musicians, but they’re all part of the fabric.

Of course, whether or not such a subtle subversion on what is commonly understood to be humor will go over with audiences remains to be seen. Unfortunately it looks like, at least in this case, it won’t: After the kneecapping Fox gave to Idiocracy—they dumped the long-shelved picture into about 100 theaters on Labor Day weekend 2006 with practically zero publicity, dooming it to near-total commercial failure—it’s a damn shame to see almost exactly the same thing happen with Miramax’s release of this film. What a kick in the pants.


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