As workplace comedies go, Mike Judge's Extract is deceptive: never quite as funny as you wish, yet not without certain comedic pleasures.
Most of those pleasures have to do with the performances, beginning with star Jason Bateman. Plot is almost a secondary consideration to the low-key Judge, who is happier moving from riff to riff than in building the kind of farce he initially dances around.
Like his other films, Office Space and Idiocracy, Extract has one central idea: a good-hearted business owner whose life is turned upside-down by the idiotic employees he tries to treat humanely. From there, Judge extrapolates comic bits, some of which pay off, some of which don't. Judge, unfortunately, is not judgmental enough to bail on the ones that don't bear fruit - and not driven enough to really exploit the ones that do.
Bateman plays Joel, owner of a factory that makes flavor extracts. Most of his employees are either dim or non-English-speaking - and Joel would dearly love to be bought out by a big corporation and retire.
His wife Susie (Kristen Wiig) starves him for sex, so Joel spends a lot of time at a bar managed by his buddy, Dean (Ben Affleck), who inevitably leads Joel into extracurricular trouble. When Joel mentions that he's attracted to a new temp employee at the plant (Mila Kunis in a nothing role) but could never cheat on Susie, Dean suggests that Joel hire a gigolo to seduce Susie; that way, Joel won't feel guilty when he cheats. Joel, having ingested both too much liquor and a dose of Special K, agrees, to his everlasting regret.
Meanwhile, an accident at the plant nearly neuters a longtime employee (Clifton Collins Jr.). The injured man brings a lawsuit that could bankrupt the company - and which threatens a buy-out bid from General Mills.
I used the word farce earlier because Judge puts several elements in play - but his style is never that antic or madcap. He's at his best putting Bateman into uncomfortable situations - such as his encounters with a chatty, intrusive neighbor (David Koechner) he can never get rid of - and letting him squirm.
In doing so, however, he puts the story on hold too often for it to build any momentum. Instead, it chugs and stalls, chugs and stalls.
Still, I can't say enough good things about Bateman and other members of the cast: Koechner as the annoying neighbor, J.K. Simmons as Bateman's irascible second-in-command, T.J. Miller as a doofus forklift operator, Affleck as Joel's trouble-making friend. On the other hand, the waste of Kristen Wiig's talent is almost criminal.
At a moment in time when corporate treatment of employees has become positively cannibalistic, a biting comedy on the subject would be a welcome treat. Unfortunately, while Judge has funny things to say about that employer/employee power struggle, he lacks the focus to build the jokes into anything more sustained than the occasional giggle.
For more of my reviews, interviews and commentary, visit my website: www.hollywoodandfine.com.
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