Here for Labor Day—a comedy about the hilarity and heartbreak of running a small business. A decade after his succès d’estime Office Space (and a few months following the termination of his long-running animated series King of the Hill), Mike Judge returns with a complementary social satire: Extract.
Where Office Space was a comedy of employee disaffection, Extract looks at the struggle between labor and capital from the other side of the desk. Named for flavorings produced by protagonist Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) in his small factory, Extract is sweeter than Judge’s scabrous and, in most markets unreleased, Idiocracy. It’s hardly less concerned with putting a frame around stupidity—opening with an apparently ditzy babe (Mila Kunis) fleecing two music-store dudes for a pricey electric guitar—but where Idiocracy held up a grotesque mirror to American mass culture and politics, Extract seems to be designed to give capitalism a human face.
Bateman’s everyman protag is our current ideal—the successful creator of his own small business—but his life is less so. The entrepreneur is waylaid by a droning nudnik neighbor (David Koechner) each evening as he returns home from work, sexually frustrated by his bored wife, Suzie (SNLer Kristen Wiig), and elaborately misadvised by his best buddy, Dean (Ben Affleck), a shaggy bartender who takes Xanax for a head cold. His main concern, however, is his plant full of brainless assembly-line workers. In the movie’s most choreographed set piece, Joel’s employees effect a Rube Goldberg catastrophe that robs their stupidest member of his family jewels. Cut to gorgeous scammer Cindy (Kunis), scanning the morning paper, glomming on a report on this “testicular incident,” then showing up at the factory, having hatched a plan to take Joel to the cleaners.
What, Judge wonders, is at the root of a man’s success? After an eye-batting job interview, the tantalized Joel wonders how to take advantage of his fetching new employee—and, at the same time, feels bad about it. Helpful Dean suggests that Joel allay his own potential adulterous guilt by first tempting Suzie, and, to that end, puts another specialist on Joel’s payroll—the dimwitted teenaged gigolo, Brad, played by Dustin Milligan with cretinous panache. Lubitsch it ain’t, but the master would surely have approved of the twist in which, hired to seduce Suzie, Brad succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.
Abetted by some reliable comic face-pullers (J.K. Simmons, Beth Grant), Extract has its share of standard comic tropes—notably the one in which, deciding that Joel needs some pharmaceutical fine-tuning, Dean takes Joel to suck on a monster bong administered by a mega-dominating dope dealer. More frightening is the scene in which Joel is bedeviled by a demon-dog shyster (Gene “Kiss” Simmons, horrifyingly resplendent in a Paganini fright wig). Joel manages to hit bottom, losing his company and his wife, moving into a Best Western, before . . . well, it’s a comedy. If one is inclined to analyze these things, the hero’s fortune is largely a function of his luck, and Joel more or less functions as a straight man in a world of fools.
Idiocracy was notable for satirizing even as it reveled in the dumbing of America. (Once seen, it provides an invaluable way to characterize the nation’s nightly cavalcade of cable news.) Judge must have taken the lesson of Idiocracy to heart, because, as Hollywood comedies go, Extract is amazingly free of gross-out vulgarity. If anything, it’s overly polite and anything but anarchic. Establishing a rhythm of workaday repetition set to a country-western backbeat, the movie is characterized by its crisp, cutting, classical framing, and comic timing. The style and approach recall classic Albert Brooks. Indeed, the beleaguered, cuckolded Joel would have been a great role for the young Brooks—adding a certain self-aggrandizing je ne sais quoi or a neurotic zetz that the appealing, but bland, Bateman lacks.