Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Very little flavor to be found here.
Advertisements for Extract have been heavily emphasizing that writer and director Mike Judge was the brains behind 1999's modern comedy classic Office Space. Judge also created and regularly wrote for animated television hits Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill. I have little exposure to any of these aforementioned projects (indeed, I have yet to watch Office Space from start to finish), but there is little question that their legacies have endured. With Extract, this simply will not be the case.
Extract features Jason Bateman as a flavor extract company's founder and owner whose zest for life has all but died. Bateman essentially plays a bitter and cynical version of his Michael Bluth from the dearly-departed television comedy series Arrested Development, but there's very little to like about this Michael (named Joel in the movie). His misery is massively disproportionate to the state of his life, and we afford him little empathy. Michael Bluth was a slightly more confident Winnie-the-Pooh. Joel the extract man is Eeyore on a mean streak.
The remaining characters are equally disenchanting. Mila Kunis makes for a pretty little con artist, but neither her motivation nor her endgame is even considered. Ergo, she's as flat as a cardboard cut-out. Kristen Wiig and J.K. Simmons as Joel's wife and business associate, respectively, are strong performers per usual, but they exist as comedic ploys more than developed personae. But lest we forget Ben Affleck, a long-certified member of Hollywood's laughingstock. Affleck plays Dean, a mellow and care-free-to-the-point-of-being-care-less bartender who is somehow friends with Joel the Crank. He's the freeze-dried leftovers of the hippie generation, and he actually plays it quite well. Dean forces meter-long marijuana bongs and elephant tranquilizers on an unsuspecting Joel, but Affleck most unexpectedly forces nothing on us. He sits back to ride the wave of his character's antics and, in doing so, offers the movie's freshest character spin.
Even the underlings, the factory workers and other bit players, exude little personality. It's a real shame, too. Judge has a fantastic set-up here: an unusual story, an interesting array of characters, a slate of talented comedic performers, and a unique and quirky concept. The writing just doesn't take it anywhere. The plot is lean, and further developments are slight. In fact, most of the film's events turn out to be completely inconsequential, with no actual purpose other than to wring out laughs. Even so, the humor is hit-or-miss throughout, and the biggest laughs still feel misplaced, as if they were excised and lifted from some other movie. Judge tries to make something dark and interesting out of Extract, but his script is not sharp enough. I could see Extract working quite well with a different screenplay, or perhaps even as a television series. There are so many directions the quirky little Extract world could go, so many stories it could tell. Too bad that's all forever unexplored potential, and we're left with this bitter and poorly-balanced offering.