Extract

At first, the demerits of Extract were so prominent in my reaction that I dismissed the movie. But after a day, its negatives faded and I kept thinking about the movie’s good parts–my ratings barometer is always if a movie sticks, something must have been going right. Writer/Director Mike Judge (TV’s Beavis and Butt-head) has not delivered the funniest movie of the year, but he has come up with one that is reasonably pleasant, funny on occasion, and at all times slightly quirky.

Inspired by memories of his mother’s kitchen, Joel (Jason Bateman, State of Play, Juno, Hancock) started and runs a small flavoring extract company in southern California. He’s an honorable, decent man who approaches the world with a firm determination to do what’s right. Alas, his goodness doesn’t seem to be giving him any rewards because his life isn’t working.

His employees all seem to be taking stupid lessons. His manager (J.K. Simmons, TV’s The Closer) is so out of sync with human relations protocol that he refuses to learn the employees’ names, referring to them all derisively as “dinkus.” His neighbor Nathan (David Koechner, The Goods: Live Hard, Die Hard) is an insufferable bore. Worst of all, his wife, Susie (Kristen Wiig, TV’s Saturday Night Live) has been too tired to make love for the past three months.

Joel liquefies his sorrows with his bartender friend, Dean, played by Ben Affleck (State of Play), who sports a disconcerting, unkempt curly-locked do. Everything about Affleck’s performance seems to come out of a different movie. Even so, he ends up being uncomfortably memorable as a morally deficient, pill-pushing Satanic shadow.

Joel dreams of selling his business and taking it easy. So when General Mills surprisingly comes in with a potential offer, he imagines all his problems are solved. He has forgotten for a few moments that his employees are idiots. As all job slaggards know, accidents happen, but you’re always supposed to blame someone else. While squabbling, his workers improperly stop the assembly line so cartons of glass bottles get smashed, which causes the forklift to crash into the machinery that sends shrapnel into the crotch of Step (Clifton Collins Jr., Crank: High Voltage), the wannabee floor manager, causing permanent damage to his self-concept of complete manhood.

Meanwhile a luscious con artist, Cindy (Mila Kunis, Max Payne), is wending her wicked way across town, stealing from every guy stupid enough to fall for her tried-and-false routines. When she reads about Step’s potential million dollar workplace injury law suit, she plans to wheedle the goofy sap out of his money. She gets herself hired at the plant as a temp worker to further her nefarious ends.

She’s so attractive–and boldly flirtatious–that sex-starved Joel starts fantasizing about sleeping with her. But, being a nice guy, he doesn’t want to be unfaithful to his wife. Unless she’s unfaithful to him first. So Dean convinces Joel to hire a brainless gigolo, Brian (Dustin Milligan, TV’s 90210), to pose as the couple’s new pool man and seduce Susie–thus leaving Joel conscience-free to succumb to Cindy’s charms.

Well, one thing leads to another. Or should I say, lots of things lead to lots of things. It’s a comedy after all, so there’s little logic and lots of stupidity and too many choices made on the basis of moral ambiguity. Some of these choices really aren’t funny. In fact, some of the movie seems like a script in search of a moral compass.

But I forgave these lackings for several reasons. Bateman is a terrific actor and it was a real pleasure to see him starring in a movie. The other characters were delightful oddballs. There are a few funny scenes. And in the end, the story creates sympathy for good bosses–a welcome twist on the cliché of employee-focused films.

Just as the movie took a while to grow on me, I think it’s going to take time for Extract to catch on. Even with its flaws, it’s good enough to possibly end up as the sleeper of the season.

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