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Review: Extract

By  · Published on September 4th, 2009

For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting a sequel to Office Space, you can look no further. The characters and story may be different, but Extract is as close to a sequel that you’ll get. In some ways, it’s worthy of that title, and for some it will be lacking, but ultimately the spirit is still there. So are some of the jokes.

Despite being on the verge of selling off his thriving extract company and retiring early, Joel (Jason Bateman) is plagued by marital strife in the form of a wife (Kristen Wiig) who won’t slip off her sweatpants once they’re put on in the evening. The spark is gone, and when the gorgeous young con-woman Cindy (Mila Kunis) enters his life, he and druggy friend Dean (Ben Affleck) hatch a convoluted plan for Joel to cheat on his wife guilt-free. Also, a dude gets hit in the balls at work and threatens to sue, threatening the impending buy-out.

Extract is good. But that’s about it.

Judge’s humor has always been an interesting blend of the most idiotic possible dancing a tangled tango with high brow concepts. No one does the banal reality of the middle class in America quite like Judge, but there’s always some sort of smarter subtext lying just below the masturbation jokes. He’s back to form here, creating a world that somehow makes boredom more entertaining than it should be. He’s also populated that world with interesting characters and fine actors to play them. With a passive protagonist, a scheme far too complex to work undertaken by morons, and multiple parties working for their own interest (a plot scenario the Coen Brother’s should appreciate), Judge has all the makings for a great movie, but his execution is lacking.

Don’t get me wrong – the movie is full of some great comedic moments. Judge even manages to somehow elevate the Fast-Moving-Object-To-The-Testicles joke so well that America’s Funniest Videos should be taking notes. Bateman is perfect as a hapless, simple man who just wants to reap the benefits of his success before his moronic workers destroy his life and before he resigns himself to never having sex again. He’s sympathetic and his inability to face up to his problems like a man is played to the nth degree for laughs. Ben Affleck is equally amazing in his role as Dean. It’s so against type, and he sinks so deeply into it that he steals every scene he comes near. Hell, even the factory workers have some incredibly funny scenes whether it’s J.K. Simmons’s character flippantly ignoring that his employees have names or (the always brilliant) Beth Grant doing more bitching about work than actual work.

On the other side of the fence, Kristen Wiig and her talents are completely neglected. Her character’s relationship with Joel is stale (which I understand is part of the story/humor/satire), but it’s not done well. It’s just dull. There must have been a way to give her more of a personality without betraying the nature of their marriage, but instead we get a fairly cliche look at marriage that hasn’t been fresh for three decades. Likewise, Mila Kunis is underused – not necessarily because of her talents which amount mostly to her looking hot – because her character should be an important catalyst. Instead, she disappears at a certain point along with cohesiveness. I haven’t seen every movie ever made, but she very well might well be the first human MacGuffin in film history.

It isn’t important for the movie to be deeper than it is. But it is important for the characters to have more personality than what’s presented. The best example is David Koechner’s character Nathan, the perpetually annoying neighbor. He’s played for a huge laugh in the beginning with Who’s On First frustration levels for Joel, but he’s ultimately a waste. A waste or a signal that Judge has blended Slice of Life filmmaking with a zany, intricate plot and hasn’t exactly done it well.

That’s what’s so frustrating, which I suppose might be the point. The movie in more energetic hands could have been a standout of the year, but as it stands, it’s a fairly solid comedy that audiences might wet themselves laughing at and then forget it exists mid-way through the second act. Judge does just enough to string us along for the entire ride, but once he attempts to piece the loose ends together, it falls apart more than ever.

There’s no doubt that Extract is hilarious. Placing talented people with a funny script in the same room tends to do that. Where it falls short is that all the characters are so flat (despite being odd while totally human) that they never seem to truly interact with each other. They talk at each other most of the time and it does nothing to advance the story that’s happening. In fact, I’m unclear as to how anything got done in this movie (other than the use of horse tranquilizers). The bright side is that Judge has shown how frustration comedy outstays its welcome or at least can’t last for an entire feature runtime. Or maybe it can, but Judge got bored with the whole thing about twenty minutes before the end and let it coast through to the credits.

Over all, I enjoyed the movie, but it ended up being a little like cinematic cotton candy. Not because it was sweet, and not because it was meaningless, but because once it was gone I could barely remember what it tasted like.

Watch the Extract Trailer:

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