The Movie Ain’t Right
I get the assembly-line thing. Assembly lines are inherently funny, and perfectly made for Rube Goldberg-type disasters, one of which, natch, features prominently in Extract, Mike Judge’s new pseudo working-class comedy. What I don’t get is the extract part. See, Jason Bateman’s Joel owns the factory here, where extracts for cooking are bottled: you know, vanilla, cookies-and-cream, root beer, and the like. Are we meant to take the extract motif as a commentary on Joel, on how his essence is being bottled up, or somesuch?
Mike Judge doesn’t do anything for no reason — at least, he hadn’t in the past — but there’s a depressing sense of aimlessness, or not-knowing-what-he-wants-to-say-ishness to Extract that is extra disappointing coming from this filmmaker, who has been so pointed and so clever up till now.
The unfunny glom of half-assed sitcom scenarios — all setup and no punchline — that make up Extract play like a rejected episode of King of the Hill, the Judge-created animated TV series that brilliantly takes down, and simultaneously celebrates, American suburban family life with its every episode. As Joel’s complacency is assaulted on all side by his factory employees, his disinterested wife (Kristen Wiig: Adventureland, Ghost Town), and his annoying neighbor (David Koechner: The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Get Smart) in ways neither interesting nor amusing nor even constructed with an eye toward any of Judge’s famously bitter satire, I kept hearing the voice of Hank Hill in my head — which is, ironically, Judge’s own voice — huffing out a sad “Dang it, Mike…”
I say “pseudo working class” because Extract is all about Joel, and he’s definitely not working class. He’s not only the owner of the factory, he’s a chemist who developed some of the company’s products. Perhaps, you might think, the satire comes in how Joel — who drives a fancy car and lives in a fancy house and clearly never has to worry about money — treats his assembly-line employees. But not at all: he’s supernice to them and probably overindulgent of their slacking off, which is frequent.
As with Judge’s Office Space, this flick is populated by some spot-on caricatures of workplace characters most of us have encountered: J.K. Simmons’ (Post Grad, Aliens in the Attic) Brian, the manager who holds all his underlings in contempt; Beth Grant’s (Henry Poole Is Here, No Country for Old Men) Mary, constantly resentful of having to pick up everyone else’s slack; Clifton Collin’s Jr.’s (Crank: High Voltage, Star Trek) Step, who fancies himself management material; T.J. Miller’s (The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, Cloverfield) Rory, who seems to spend most of his working day inviting people to come to his band’s garage concerts when he really should be learning how to drive that forklift safely. But they’re all in the background. For all of Jason Bateman’s (State of Play, Hancock) potent charms and quiet charisma, he really has little to do here but look put-upon. Even Ben Affleck (State of Play, Smokin’ Aces) as Joel’s bartender pal seems a bit lost as to why he’s even here, and he’s got what is probably the juiciest, daringest role.
The biggest source of dissatisfaction for me is that I can’t even tell what Judge is satirizing here. (If that’s deliberate, and there was never even an attempt at satire, then this is one of the most underpowered comedies I’ve ever seen.) The one social convention that gets big play here — the way that cube-farm politics did in Office Space, or the dumbing down of America did in Idiocracy — is the notion that women are wily manipulators who use sex as a weapon and take advantage of men, and men are idiotic dupes who don’t care as long as a woman is “hot” enough. Of course that does happen, sometimes, just as office politics are real and America really does seem to be getting dumbed down.
But Judge doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, and in fact, all the female manipulation and all the male idiocy appears to get Judge’s — he wrote the script as well as directs — stamp of approval not only as a plain fact of the way things are, but a pretty good way for things to be, too. Which simply doesn’t sound like Judge at all, and also makes for a movie that ends up insulting just about anyone watching.