Entries Comments

Extract Another Solid Mike Judge Comedy

Written and directed by Mike Judge
Miramax, 2009

By all measures, Mike Judge has been the polar opposite of Judd Apatow.  Apatow’s list of critically beloved, but quickly canceled, TV shows is pretty enormous.  It wasn’t until he became a film director with The 40-Year-Old Virgin that Apatow finally found success, and his movies as writer, producer, director have dominated comedy in films for the last 4 years.

On the flip side, there’s Mike Judge, who garnered nothing but success in the TV world: Beavis & Butt-Head became a cultural phenomenon in the nineties, and later, King of the Hill would go on to enjoy 12 seasons of acclaim and a pretty decent following.  While the movie Beavis & Butt-Head Do America certainly enjoyed success (it had the all-time opening weekend for December until the next year, when Titanic opened), it was his first live-action film, Office Space, that was greeted with indifference when it was released back in 1999.  That movie made a cool $10 million.  Then it hit video, and well, you’d swear it was one of the biggest hits ever considering how people quote it now.  Despite the following of Office Space, somehow 20th Century Fox couldn’t find a way to give Judge’s next film, Idiocracy, a boost.  Another soon-to-be-cult-hit, Idiocracy would be dumped into a handful of cities, New York not one of them, and die quietly before it could even make a half million dollars.

But this, unfortunately, may be Mike Judge’s fate as a film writer/director.  None of his films look like something a mass audience will want to see.  He might, in fact, share a great deal in common with Kevin Smith, who has a devoted following but never enough to crank out a huge hit by today’s standards.  Take Extract, in which a classic everyman Joel (Jason Bateman) is running a vanilla extract factory.  It doesn’t lend itself to easy jokes, one-liners, or pratfalls.  It’s never been Judge’s style.  Judge always finds the absurd with the way people act (take Lumbergh from Office Space), and this is a tough thing to sell in a 2 1/2 minute trailer.

Joel, as the boss, has to suffer his hands-off manager Brian (the always excellent JK Simmons), his complaining factory workers (represented best by Beth Grant), a compliment of Hispanic workers who don’t know the English language all too well, a confrontational would-be manager, Step (Clifton Collins, Jr), and of course, some dunderheads (TJ Miller of holding-the-camera-in-Cloverfield fame).  Once off work, he has to beat the clock to possibly have sex with his wife (the lovely and talented Kristen Wiig) but always finds the task tough, especially with his boorish neighbor (David Koechner) talking non-stop before he can even get in the door.

Joel hopes to sell his business to General Mills soon, but when the workers conflict with each other an accident occurs on the factory floor: a series of events leads to one of Step’s testicles running into harm’s way, the consequence of which looks to be settled out of court, until a thief and confidence trickster known as Cindy (dreadfully hot Mila Kunis) enters the fray.  Cindy, hoping to score a million bucks by pretending to care about Step and becoming his girlfriend, encourages Step to get a lawyer (played with funny creepy intensity by yes, Gene Simmons) and sue the company.

Meanwhile, Joel looks to sweeten his private life by possibly pursuing a romance with Cindy as well.  Plus, his friend/bartender/drug dealer Dean (Ben Affleck) tries to get him to take some drugs and mellow out.  When Joel complains that he’d like to have an affair, but wouldn’t want to cheat on Cindy, Dean suggests hiring a gigolo to seduce Cindy so that he would feel more free to indulge in such shenanigans.  And, under the influence, Joel does hire one of the dumbest human beings on Earth (played by Dustin Milligan) to do just that.

Once again, the comedy comes from character, the way people think and talk.  It’s your middle class, where-is-mine mentality that drives the movie.  Everyone is looking for an escape from their crappy life some way, somehow, much like Peter (Ron Livingston) in Office Space dreams about, and the thought creeps in, “Maybe I have to do something outrageous to change my crappy life.”  And of course, these outrageous thoughts are not good ideas.

Jason Bateman has obviously become the go-to guy for this.  He commands laughs almost every time he’s on screen.  My favorite part is when he comes home, trying to get there before his wife’s sweatpants make an appearance and forever locks away his chance to have sex.  He tries to suggest a trip to the bedroom anyway, which his wife turns down, and when his wife finds out it’s a certain day and time and one of her favorite programs is on, she is forever lost to him.  He remarks, “Oh, is that on?” with the half-hearted attempt to be interested and somehow hide how frustrated he is.  It’s become such a staple of Bateman’s timing that I can’t even imagine anyone else trying it.

All of this said, like most Mike Judge comedies, it’s a movie that will likely grow over time.  You will likely watch it on the first viewing thinking, “Yeah there’s a couple of funny things here…this is decent.”  I have a feeling much like Office Space and Idiocracy, it will feel much funnier with repeated viewings.  I think the reason for this is that since Judge doesn’t rely on punchlines, you don’t necessarily notice anything falling completely short on the first viewing, and for the most part you feel like you’ve had a good time.  Then, on your next viewing, you realize there are no punchlines, and you can just enjoy it for all the character quirks.  It slowly grows on you.

These movies will never be great, but they won’t fail you with stuff trying hard to be funny when they’re not.  But I think I might be shortchanging Judge with that description because I feel like his brand of comedy is an art form and it’s hard to define.  If you don’t find something particularly funny in a Judge comedy, you don’t feel like tearing your eyeballs out like with the Friedberg/Seltzer parodies.  He’s not telling you what’s supposed to be funny; his movies allow you to take whatever you like and ignore whatever else you don’t like.  Nothing sticks out like a sore thumb.  That might be the best thing I have to say about this movie.  It doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I don’t think you’ll feel like you’ll need to get your money back upon watching this movie.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.