While hackish, far lesser talents regularly scoop up studio jobs, and American audiences seem perfectly willing to spend money going to movies in which guys habitually debase themselves to the soundtrack of old Motown hits and Seth Green gets cradled in the arms of a gorilla, Mike Judge is perhaps destined to live out the prime years of his creative life — on the feature film front, at least — as a criminally underappreciated comedic talent. The writer-director of Office Space, which achieved cult-like status after its 1999 release, returned to theaters last fall with his first wide-release film in a full decade, only to see it unfairly sputter, pulling in only $10.8 million.
Extract centers around Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman), a put-upon small businessman who seems to be sitting pretty, but is in reality a bit listless. Married and successful, with a comfortable home and an almost-finalized acquisition of the culinary extracts business he’s built from the ground up with his loyal lieutenant Brian (J.K. Simmons), Joel seems to have it all. His wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), though, is about as interested in him as she is in her career (in supermarket coupon design); his bickering employees want a piece of the pie; and Cindy (Mila Kunis, who displays a prodigious amount of carefully shirt-taped cleavage in the movie), a flirty new temp with a seemingly unnatural interest in extract, is really a wily con artist. On the advice of drug-addled bartender pal Dean (a bewigged Ben Affleck, above right), Joel cooks up a scheme to cheat with impunity by hiring a dumb-as-a-box-of-hair gigolo, Brad (Dustin Milligan), to seduce Suzie. Unfortunately, Joel discovers the young object of his affection, Cindy, is behind a personal injury lawsuit by long-time employee Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.) that, if it goes through, will scotch the buyout deal and leave Joel penniless.
Extract doesn’t quite touch the zeitgeist brilliance of Office Space or Idiocracy, the latter of which was dumped by 20th Century Fox under suspicious circumstances, one presumes in large part because of its fiercely satirical skewering of corporate excess. But Judge makes comedies of a rare breed — those that don’t wink at audiences, and entirely telegraph their intentions and moves from about a hundred yards out. His films are rooted in character, but also mindful of just how frequently baser instincts, petty judgments and irrational grievances typically rule our behavior, no matter the income bracket. They’re lowbrow-highbrow flicks, of a sort, and Extract is no exception.
In fact, while the movie is pretty straightforward in its plotting, it wrings laughs and all sorts of squirmy delights from the edges inward — the frustration of an overly talkative neighbor, or in dealing with someone who is unable to follow the clearest, most plainly dictated train of logical explanation. For a film that turns on a character losing a testicle, and another arranging to pay a guy to have sex with his wife — both seemingly free passes for wild excess — Extract is oddly restrained, almost chaste. (And I mean that in a good way, really.) Its laughs are typically inwardly reflected, and played for slow-burn. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel, but Bateman, meanwhile, is an ever-pleasant guide to the sort of suburban malaise under the microscope here. In him we’re able to see and appreciate the silver lining that sometimes is hard to focus on in our own troubles.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Extract comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Its sole bonus feature is a 11-minute making-of featurette which interweaves footage from the set and film itself with interview chats with Bateman, Kunis, Judge and producer John Altschuler, and Judge mocks his acting cameo in the movie and shares that his inspiration for Kunis’ character was “a sociopath whom everyone happens to like.” Then Kunis goes and lets slip that she thinks her character was based on someone a friend of Judge’s (or he?) used to date, which interestingly shades things, and makes one wish that Judge ‘fessed up to his source inspiration a little more. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C- (Disc)