Thursday, September 10, 2009

The verdict's in: Judge's 'Extract' delivers

“Extract” — “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge’s latest film — is a box office dud, but given his track recorded that is almost an audience seal of approval.

Judge’s first live action film, “Office Space,” was also a box office failure but has since developed a loyal following as one of the better comedies of the last decade. His second film, "Idiocracy," was barely released theatrically, but has developed some cult cred.

It is hard to say if “Extract” is destined for a similar second life on DVD. “Extract” returns to the work place setting of “Office Space,” although this time the location is a bit more obscure: an artificial flavoring factory.

The perspective has also shifted from the disillusioned cubicle dwellers of “Office Space” to the boss, in the case of “Extract,” the hands-on small business owner Joel (Jason Bateman, “Juno,” “Hancock.”)

“Office Space” struck a cord by giving a voice to disenfranchised office workers who could smile and nod at the all too familiar scenarios. Of course there was also the vicarious pleasure of watching the characters take a bat to a malfunctioning copier.

“Extract” doesn’t quite resonate the same way, but it is still often a very funny film. The plot centers on an escalating series of complications involving a sultry con-artist (Mila Kunis, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), a dim-witted gigolo (Dustin Milligan) and a Rube Goldberg-esque accident that robs one of Bateman’s employee’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) of his manhood.

Dating back to “Beavis and Butthead,” Judge has relished skewering the idiocy of (some) Americans, but he has always done it with an undercurrent of social commentary even if it is a deeply buried one.

Of his three live action films, “Extract” is probably his most straightforward comedy with the least to say. There is a theme of whether a small business owner should sell out or continue to fight the good fight. And given the state of economy, perhaps just broaching that subject is saying enough.

Bateman, who doesn’t look or seem like an inherently funny person, has an uncanny way of underplaying everything. His deadpan reaction to the craziness around him creates a nice comic tension and helps hold the film together.

But it’s the supporting characters who are the most fun and keep the film interesting. Ben Affleck is very funny as a bartender whose advice to everything is to take some sort of drug. His character is a firm believer of the healing power of Xanax. He even uses it for headaches.

It became fashionable to bash Affleck after a series of ill-advised career moves, but he is back on track having reinvented himself as a reliable supporting player in a series of strong performance in “Hollywoodland,” “State of Play” and now “Extract.”

There’s also nice supporting work from J.K. Simmons (“Juno,” “Burn After Reading”) and Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”). Both actors have a way of popping into a movie for one or two scenes and stealing the show.

The film’s best character is an obnoxious neighbor played by David Koechner (“Anchorman”). Koechner nails that kind of person who seems to come out of nowhere to talk your ear off about nothing no matter how much of a hurry you are in. A final confrontation with this character is the film’s biggest and most unexpected laugh and one of the funniest moments of any film this year.

“Extract” is a low-key comedy punctuated with several laugh-out-loud moments and a plot that isn’t easy to predict. Things are tidied up a bit too neatly toward the end, but overall this is an enjoyable little comedy.

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