04/12/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Extract : Mike Judge's Latest is Also His Worst, But It's Still Pretty Good

Extract goes down smoothly, but there's not much there. Mike Judge's third live-action movie is a much more modest affair than the biting satire of the brilliant Office Space (rating: 88) or the uneven Idiocracy (rating: 78). It isn't quite clear who he's satirizing here, if anybody, which makes this muddled film much less consistently funny than the past two. But the cast is brilliant, and the movie is appealing. It's just not particularly memorable.

Jason Bateman plays a man who owns a factory that makes artificial extract flavoring. He's miserable because his wife (Kristen Wiig) is uninterested in sex. He's trying to sell the factory, but an accident injures one of the workers, leading to a possible lawsuit -- which brings a gold-digging grifter played by Mila Kunis to town. Bateman decides to hire a gigolo to have an affair with his wife so that he can pursue Kunis with a clear conscience. Nothing works out quite as he thought, but it all works out for the best.

The cast is by far the best part of the movie. Kunis is decent, but her character is more of a deus ex machina than a human being. Bateman does a good job providing a center, but there often aren't enough jokes around him for his straight man to be cast into much relief. Kristen Wiig is magnificent as his wife, and really ought to be a movie star -- beautiful, hilarious, and incredibly gifted, she's one of the great comediennes of her generation. Ben Affleck is similarly great as Bateman's one friend, a bartender who convinces him to take drugs and hatch the crazy gigolo scheme. Dustin Milligan provides most of the movie's biggest laughs as Brad, the dim-witted gigolo. Gene Simmons -- yes, from KISS -- has a lot of fun playing an ambulence chaser.

I don't want to say that Judge has reached the diminishing-returns portion of his career, just a decade after Office Space. More likely, his attention is just split in too many directions -- with "King of the Hill" and the poorly-reviewed "The Goode Family" on the air, it's hard to expect him to have much more in the way of jokes. And because each of his three movies has flopped horribly in theaters, it's hard for him to get many chances to make a film. It's a shame -- he clearly has a talent for filmmaking, but he's pigeonholed into TV animation at this point. However, it also looks like he's running out of good ideas, after nearly two decades of fame removed from the crappy jobs that helped inspire his best work. He's never yet made a bad movie, but the way he's going, he's liable to start.

Rating: 68

Crossposted on Remingstonstein.