By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
There is a nutty conviviality, a between-you-and-me familiarity that buoys writer-director Mike Judge’s inventively penned “Extract” above its just so-so direction. While thank goodness we don’t know these particular crazies, they are close enough in modus operandi to remind us of the loonies we do know. They range from irksome to dangerous.
Take Mary (Beth Grant), for instance, a conveyor belt drone at Joel Reynold’s (Jason Bateman) nice little flavor extract plant. She is the slough off extraordinaire, the proverbial cause of the problem, the accident waiting to happen. Yet while totally oblivious to her uselessness, Mary is convinced all her co-workers are really the problem.
The other workplace screwballs that populate the scenario are so occupied by their own rationalizations and idiocies that they accept her disingenuous finger pointing as a fact of life. Unlike Miss Perfect, each figures they’re guilty of one sort of malfeasance or another. Avoiding being found out becomes their personally written job description.
The amazing thing is that, at the end of the day, X amount of rather well thought of, profit-making food flavoring is shipped to the company’s growing list of satisfied customers. So much so, in fact, that rumor has it General Mills is fixing to make young Mr. Reynold an offer for the business he founded. Too bad he is otherwise distracted.
You see, though Joel gets to drive his 7-Series BMW to a beautiful McMansion every evening, of late he is greeted there with dispassion by wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig). No one is quite certain when the bored, work-from-the-home coupon designer lost that lovin’ feeling. But like the employees at Reynold’s, both have come to accept the dysfunction.
Meanwhile, there are those who see opportunity here…who, in a tradition as old as our monetary system, aren’t above capitalizing on the misfortunes of others. Add to this the best-laid plans of Joel’s well-meaning but essentially lunatical best friend, Dean, played by Ben Affleck, and we have a comical, two-pronged study in how things can go awry.
Sitting at the trough where he bartended with his old pal while studying to become a chemical engineer and eventual flavor magnate, Joel anguishes over his woeful love life. Without batting a bloodshot eye, Dean recommends drugs…and delivers a zany synopsis of what to expect from each Rx. But that’s not the worst of his prescriptions.
Suggests Dean, Joel should hire a gigolo to seduce his wife. This way, he won’t feel guilty when he has an affair with Cindy (Mila Kunis), the pretty new hire at work who has not only been flirting with him, but, curiously enough, seems to share his interest in flavors. Under the influence of Dean’s dispensary, Joel’s clouded judgment prevails.
Enters the hired stud (Dustin Milligan), as dumb as he is attractive. Posing as the new pool man, it’s soon mission accomplished, and mission accomplished yet again, etc., etc. O.K., enough is enough, warns Joel. Thus, from the harebrained scheme are hatched new problems. And just to make it a double whammy for our guy, trouble brews at work, too.
Remember Mary, the blameless blamer? Well, when she decides to hold up the production line to make a foolhardy point, it sets in motion a Rube Goldberg chain of catastrophic events. Step (Clifton Collins), the nice dolt who’s been lobbying to be floor manager, is hurt. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t figure him to sue. But hmm, the plot thickens.
Joe Adler (Gene Simmons), an ambulance chaser supreme whose legend is extolled on bus bench advertisements throughout the land, has been hired. Getting wind of what could very well be a fly in the takeover ointment, General Mills decides to demur until further notice. Totally unaware of what’s really going on, the workers start talking strike.
Of course none of this tragic scenario would customarily seem funny. Which is precisely what distinguishes Mr. Judge’s style. The creator of animated products “Beavis & Butthead” and “King of the Hill,” his unique, at once loving and sarcastic take on the American Dream strikes a very humorous and savvy chord. It says something about us.
Attribute it to a weird aspect of our egocentrism. We are more than willing to chuckle at our follies and foibles, no matter how devastatingly negative, so long as they’re camouflaged in likeably bizarre characterizations. Mixing these portrayals with an almost nonchalant style of casual delivery, Judge’s contrasts please our sense of whimsy.
The thing is, for all the chicanery portrayed, there are no innately villainous personae. Rather, even the script’s most diabolical schemer has only that ultimate evil—namely, ignorance—to blame for his/her bad behavior. Hence, albeit disguised in bawdy, illicit folderol, the humanistic message you’ll derive from “Extract” makes for a good laugh.
“Extract,” rated R, is a Miramax Film’s release directed by Mike Judge and stars Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig and Ben Affleck. Running time: 92 minutes