Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: Extract

* * / * * * *

Property of The Daily Gamecock

Director Mike Judge has developed an immense cult following since pioneering brash cartoon humor in the 1990s with "Beavis and Butthead," moving on to "King of the Hill" and polishing that decade off with the workplace satire "Office Space."

After an unbalanced foray into science fiction with 2006's "Idiocracy," Judge heads back to screwball workplace satire in his new film, "Extract." The film follows Joel (Jason Bateman), an upper-middle class small business owner whose life starts to unravel as he becomes more sexually estranged from his wife, one of his co-workers threatens to sue after losing a testicle in a supply line accident and a sexy new temp becomes the object of his affection.

Judge's feature films are about suffocating under the banal and mundane tediousness of reality, turning the pressures of society into a prickly minefield of stress. His comedy here is never too broad or too crude, but takes a relaxed tone that lets jokes smoothly evolve.

Star Bateman keeps the film grounded by staying earnest. His happiness is always teetering on the brink, and his desire for personal fulfillment always matches his financial frustration and woes.

Supporting players Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig and Clifton Collins, Jr. add dashes of flavor without going over the top. The real standout is Ben Affleck, as a bearded bartender who helps Joel get the upper hand on his unfaithful wife. Affleck is the most energetic, the zaniest and, for some reason, the most likeable presence in the film.

As soft as Judge's humor is, the satire doesn't have much of a bite. What "Extract" does quite well, even if only intermittently, is to praise the economics of small business, propping up the virtues of self-made capitalism without letting the ignorance of the characters make them total buffoons.

Where "Extract" doesn't necessarily work is when it tries to balance the workplace satire against the suburban satire. While the movie is about Joel trying to stabilize himself against an escalating set of circumstances, it feels more like two movies trading off screen time than one coherent package.

The relationship between Bateman and on-screen wife Wiig simmers with sexual tension, with Wiig mustering great deadpan in almost all her scenes. Their story, and the sexual triangle Joel tries to forge with Kunis's con artist Cindy, would be a good enough story of suburban unrest without the business angle.

That "Extract" doesn't seem perfectly content with itself, meshing storylines, throwing in secondary characters and angling itself more at peripheral jokes than focusing in on the heart of the matter, which is what keeps it from being great.

Judge may keep the humor at a constant elevation, but it doesn't fly high enough. The satire only carries the film so far, and despite the actors' attempts to gel with the humor, they all largely lack the kind of vitality that helped Judge's "Office Space" rocket to cult classic status.

By no means a poor or unfunny film, "Extract" is just too invested in providing samplings, trying to capitalize fleetingly on all anxieties instead of focusing deeply on any one subject.

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