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Slight but amusing, Extract is the latest offering from writer/director Mike Judge, best known for his animated creations, Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, as well as the seminal cubicle comedy, Office Space.  Judge once again returns to the workplace, this time to a flavour extract factory.  Extract opens as we follow a beautiful thief using her wiles as handily as a bank robber uses a gun, leaving a trail of beguiled and poorer shopkeepers in her wake.  Cindy’s entrée is significant because she represents a conundrum for the earnest owner of an extract factory.  Joel’s manufacturing plant resembles more a halfway house or the Island of Misfit Toys than a successful business judging by the succession of ex-cons, dimwitted wannabe rock stars, gossipy troublemakers and other unemployables who have found shelter and steady income under Joel’s roof.  Joel’s dedication to making the world more flavourful has brought him the aggravations of running a dysfunctional workplace and not taking enough care of things on the homefront.  His free evenings are spent in the company of drug-addled bartender, Dean, complaining about his wife Suzy’s frustrating closed sweatpants rule.  Enter the seductive swindler, Cindy, who spots a goldmine in a news article about Step, an employee of the extract plant tragically emasculated in a freak accident.  Cindy infiltrates the factory as an employee, simultaneously cozying up to the wounded Step and tempting lovin’-deprived Joel.  Joel is too much of a mensch to take Cindy up on her open-door policy and cheat on his wife, at least unless Suzy does it first.  Under the ill-advised guidance of dopey Dean, Joel agrees to hire a would-be gigolo to seduce his wife, giving Joel the pass he needs to make his move on Cindy.  Not one to let the grass grow under her high heels, Cindy’s words into the ear of her new inamorato, Skip change his mind about suing the company for the accident and with Cindy’s guidance teams-up with a skeezy lawyer for a huge payday for his damaged manhood.  Skip’s lawsuit also threatens the possible sale of the factory to General Mills, a move that doesn’t sit well with the drones.  All his work troubles and Suzy’s unexpected attachment to the halfwit prostitute makes Joel wonder why he ever went into the extract business in the first place.

The low-fi comedy of Extract made me feel as if I was watching an episode of King of the Hill, which has rarely brought me to side-splitting laughs, but am still somehow amused enough to enjoy it and compelled to catch it often.  All the cars in the film bear California license plates, but the action might as well taken place somewhere in Arlen, Texas in light of Extract’s homespun, lackadaisical pacing.  The Tex/Mex rock all over the soundtrack gives it away, too.  The pulse of Extract lies almost entirely in its great cast.  I could tell way back when that that kid from Silver Spoons was going to turn out to be a comedy genius.  Bateman has an innate everyman charm that keeps the audience with him even when he’s being a heel.  Bateman gets a bigger laugh by arching a sardonic eyebrow than most physical comedians get in ninety minutes of twisting limbs and slapstick.  Judge’s off-the-cuff humour suits Bateman’s bone-dry delivery perfectly and together they create the spark the powers Extract.  There are good performances all around; notably Clifton Collins Jr., again displaying his incredible disappearing act, buried under prosthetics and ugly makeup as the hillbilly-ish Step.  Adding JK Simmons to any cast makes a film better and here he is as Joel’s blustering factory manager proving me right.  David Koechner is practically a Mike Judge animated character come to life as Nathan, the boorishly good-natured yet awfully creepy neighbour who’s too close for Joel and Suzy’s comfort.  Kristen Wiig, another truly funny person is nicely understated as Joel’s adulterous wife.  Ben Affleck in a hideous porn star wig and ‘stache as Joel’s perpetually stoned bartender pal once again bears out my theory that he should play supporting roles forever; he doesn’t quite light up the screen but his comfort delivering the funny to Jason Bateman’s straight man is apparent.

Extract feels less like a big-screen feature and more like a side project for Judge and I wonder if this wouldn’t have had more punch as a collection of FunnyorDie shorts.  Mellow and off-beat, Extract’s big lure is in Jason Bateman’s sterling performance as the overworked, underappreciated businessman, if that isn’t enough to grab you - and it should be - then wait for this to come to cable.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

September 3rd, 2009

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Miramax Films)

 

 

 

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