It seems fitting that “Extract” takes place in a vanilla extract factory, since the film is about as plain as the flavor itself. And the saddest part is, it comes from one of Hollywood’s most creative directors.
“Extract” is a comedy. Sometimes, it’s a spoof on work hell. Other times, it’s a spoof on suburbia. And then the rest of the time, it’s supposed to be a comedic crime caper. It never really takes a stand at specifically which one it will be, and not a single one of these ideas ever seems to connect.
“Extract” is directed by Mike Judge, whose previous comedy about life at work is, of course, “Office Space.” This time, rather than being from the perspective of the miserable mid-level worker, it’s from the perspective of the stressed out boss. Joel (Jason Bateman) owns a successful flavor extract company. He’s about to make a fortune by selling his company to General Mills until a freak accident in the factory leaves a worker without a testicle. His replacement is an attractive con woman named Cindy (Mila Kunis). She seems nice, but she’s secretly trying to con the company out of millions of dollars.
Back at home, Joel’s life is even more complicated. He has major sexual troubles with his wife (Kristen Wiig). This is what will eventually set the stage for some bad advice from a drug-loving bar tender (Ben Affleck) and a doomed relationship with Cindy.
Those are the two plots of Extract. If Judge wanted to make a better movie, he should’ve just stuck to one of them. And in my opinion, it should’ve been the hard working, frustrated boss tries to make things work at work and home. The con woman plot goes absolutely nowhere.
How Judge could make such a poorly executed comedy is beyond me. Not only did he direct “Office Space,” he also created “Beavis and Butt-head.” While many people without a sense of irony thought this show was just plain dumb, it’s actually about the humor of observing dumb people. “Extract” certainly could have had some of that. At one point, Joel points out how all of his workers are giant babies, and he is like their babysitter. We see the workers’ work habits. While the workers’ work habits are annoying, they’re never particularly hilarious. None of them seem to have those Milton-like qualities.
Like any Mike Judge film or show, “Extract” is filled with a wide variety of characters defined by their quirks. Usually these quirks include a less than intelligent brain, or a strange way of speaking. Maybe the best one in “Extract” is Joel’s nosy neighbor Nathan (David Koechner). However, his quirks aren’t shown in a lovable way. They’re shown in a more “I want to punch this guy in the face” way.
Maybe the reason many of the characters don’t work is because Judge underutilizes his obscenely talented cast. J.K. Simmons is barely given a funny line, and his role in the film is never defined. Wiig is great at playing shy and asexual, but again, she’s given few chances to be truly funny. And while I was most looking forward to seeing Affleck (what? he’s funny), he is given too little screen time. I always enjoy Jason Bateman, and here I think he did his best to re-create his other famous frustrated boss role: Michael Bluth–if only this film could’ve been more like “Arrested Development.” However, there are two bright spots. Kiss’s Gene Simmons does a hilarious job portraying a sleazy lawyer, and Dustin Milligan gets some of the film’s best laughs for playing the brain dead gigolo Brad.
I don’t want to give “Extract” as bad a review as I could because I know there’s potential for a great movie in here. That potential is perhaps best seen at the film’s end. The ending has an underlying, subtle humor to it and an almost moving, human quality. It is the ending to a film that never actually existed. That end scene showed the film’s true, wasted potential.
Judge is one of Hollywood’s most under appreciated talents, and I thought “Extract” would become another underrated cult hit. It had potential. If only it had emulated that ending scene and been the kind of satire of American life Judge is so great at doing, than this comedy would’ve been an instant classic.