Friday, September 4, 2009

Movie Review: "Extract" Lacks Flavor (and Funny)

"What have I always said is the most important thing?" Um, food flavoring?

I don't get to attend a lot of real press screenings as they tend to occur at 10am on weekdays when I am day-jobbing, but a few weeks ago I actually got to screen a movie with my fellow critics. 10am, Friday morning, dark theater, me and like 10 other people scattered throughout the seats, maybe 2 other females. Not exactly an "audience". I greatly value the collective movie watching experience and respect the impact it can have on a movie. I can still recall the energy and shout-outs at an opening night showing of Independence Day (1996) at the SamEric in Philly - which I think was the largest screen on the East Coast before it's demise. The audience made that movie way better. And maybe I disliked Extract, which opens tonight, so much because viewing it with other critics felt like a bit of a pissing contest. I don't know about them, but I was noticing who was laughing at what and I can tell you, there wasn't a lot of laughing going on. The reason for this is either critics being jaded hard to impress assholes or maybe, just maybe it's because the movie was just not that good. I'm gonna go with the crappy movie explanation even though that first part is totally true.

Extract seems to be suffering from a case of the Mondays with its juvenile premise and predictable outcomes making for a movie with little of the banal charm of 1999’s Office Space and none of the creativity of 2006’s flawed but entertaining Idiocracy. Director Mike Judge applies the low key charm and ridiculousness of his recently canceled animated series King of the Hill to a new story, but unfortunately Extract falls flat with tired bits and unfunny observations on marriage, drugs and workplace drama.

Joel (Jason Bateman), flavor extract factory owner and extract enthusiast, has a problem. His wife (Kristen Wigg) doesn’t seem to want to have sex with him, for no particular reason it seems. Joel is frustrated, but professionally successful and about to sign off on a deal to sell his extract factory meaning early retirement so he can start not having sex with his wife full-time. J.K. Simmons, who seems to be in everything right now, is the plant's manager that unfortunately repeats the same joke throughout the entire movie. He refers to staff members as “Dingus” and “Idiot” as opposed to learning their names. It’s sort of funny once, but not the second or sixth time. The rest of the film employs similar repetitive bits with other characters, like the incredibly irritating and idiotic neighbor, or the incredibly irritating idiotic factory worker or the incredibly…I think you get the picture.

"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!'"

But, Joel’s professional career takes a dive after a freak accident in the factory line leaves an employee short one testicle. Said worker (Clifton Collins, Jr.) begins considering a lawsuit only after Cindy, the hot drifter/con artist and new factory temp (Mila Kunis featuring stuffed bra) with nothing but $$ on her mind, begins “dating” him while he convalesces. Meanwhile Joel is still not having sex, but would like to with Cindy. His very hairy bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck) logically proposes that Joel hire his gigolo acquaintance named Brad (Dustin Milligan) to seduce the wife therefore making it OK for him to cheat. Of course, Joel agrees to the plan, because he’s an idiot and also under the influence of horse tranquilizers and whiskey. Such an outlandish plot and a great cast, including the wonderful character actress Beth Grant and Cloverfield’s T.J. Miller should make for some fun, yet Extract is tedious and exhausting.

Bateman’s mellow everyman makes no sense paired with Affleck’s druggie bartender as his best friend and the two never really gel. The interactions between characters seem surprisingly natural, but the result is often unfunny obvious dialogue that just not very clever. Judge himself shows up briefly in one of the few amusing scenes where the factory workers begin talk union. A token high scene is pretty funny as is the prospect of a profitable working factory on American soil. But the last 1/3 of the film is a wreck that not even Gene Simmons, as a sleazy lawyer sans make-up but still with super creepy hair, can save.

Judge has done a great job of bringing a dignity to the workers of American, from those who sell propane and propane accessories to a former IT middle management turned construction worker. But, Extract manages to insult Joe Six-Pack a little bit while having the highest concentration of unfunny “ball” jokes of any film in a long time. Sadly, Extract is far from palatable and certainly not some of Judge's best work.

opens today
91 mins
Dir/Writ.: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wigg, Mila Kunis
Rated "R" for sexual references, drugs and language.