Extract (review)

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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.

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C. David Dent
Wed, Sep 02, 2009 2:22pm

It may be that the movie itself is the satire. Mike Judge was badly treated with Idiocracy. The powers-that-be didn’t like the fact that he accurately poked their audiences in the eye. But as these things go, contracts and opportunities come around again and Mike gets a chance to make another film.

So he makes a movie that does just the opposite. he assembles a group of characters that cuts across just about every demographic from rich to dirt-poor. He writes a sit-com-humor-level script that challenges nothing. He presents an idea that is neither radically pointed, nor distasteful enough to be challenged and then sits back and sees if the public bites.

And if they do then he can shake his head and go back to making the kind of satire that goes over most people’s head but will keep those that don’t see the real humor amused. And if it fails he can point to it as an example of why he doesn’t make “Hollywood” movies. Either way, he’s the one who wins – monetary or moral victory is assured.

C. David Dent
Wed, Sep 02, 2009 2:23pm

It occurs to me that “an assembly line movie” is an appropriate setting.

Wed, Sep 02, 2009 6:27pm

He presents an idea that is neither radically pointed, nor distasteful enough to be challenged and then sits back and sees if the public bites.

Well, the crowd I saw the movie with — which was probably 25 percent critics and press and 75 percent regular moviegoers — were laughing their asses off. So I’d say that if you’re right, C. David Dent, then Judge’s joke has succeeded in proving that the *Idiocracy* world is already here.

I don’t see why it means he’ll go back to making smart movies, however, if *Ow, My Balls!* is where the money is.

Wed, Sep 02, 2009 6:27pm

This movie really is *Ow, My Balls!*: a major plot point turns on a testicular injury.

Wed, Sep 02, 2009 9:07pm

I’m not gonna lie. I like testical humor. Hell, even Inglourious Basterds has some singular Ball Hits.

I’ve never seen a Mike Judge movie in the theaters though, and I doubt I’ll start with this one.

Thu, Sep 03, 2009 12:53am


This movie rocked. Saw it in Austin. Did you actually watch the same movie I did? I’m sure you are good at what you do!!! Just way off base here. You’re tryin too hard.


Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Thu, Sep 03, 2009 1:35am

Assembly lines are inherently funny…

Unless you have to work on one.

That said, Modern Times-which has been known to have a scene or two involving assembly lines–is one of my favorite all-time comedies and I’d rather stay home and watch the DVD for that than go out and see this.

Then again, I found Office Space not all that funny after the first ten minutes. And I always thought that a lot of the commentary about Idiocracy was unintentionally funnier than the movie itself.

I do agree with MaryAnn on the merits of King of the Hill. Could it be that Mike Judge said everything he really needed to say in that series and that other animated series he was famous for? (No, not The Goode Family.) Maybe that explains why he appears to be all out of ideas on this current project? Or maybe he’s just killing time until the next Spy Kids movie…

Accounting Ninja
Thu, Sep 03, 2009 9:39am

Geez, MAJ, the way you described it kind of sounds like Office Space if it had been written from the point of view of Lumbergh. :D

This movie really is *Ow, My Balls!*: a major plot point turns on a testicular injury.

Okay, this line is hilarious. Also, it’s sad, because my Football In The Groin fears have been confirmed.

Ow, My Balls! Starring Will Ferrel! Coming this Summer to Theaters Near You!

How far off are we from actually seeing this, America? How far off?!

Thu, Sep 03, 2009 2:04pm

And don’t forget, Brawndo is actually be made and marketed. Scary!

Although, it DOES have electrolytes…

Thu, Sep 03, 2009 2:06pm

What’s even scarier, I was making a point about the dumbing down of our culture, and I used the incorrect word, “be” instead of “being.”

Guess *I* am not part of the solution.

Thu, Sep 03, 2009 6:06pm

I find it amusing reading reviews where the critic is trying to find meaning in a movie that centers around a crotch shot.

While everyone else is laughing, this critic is stumped because she doesn’t know what Judge is satirizing.

One of the keys to comedic material is that it’s relatable to it’s audience. Ever wonder why Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians that ever lived?

Thu, Sep 03, 2009 7:35pm

Well Adam, I find it amusing reading comments where the commenter is trying to tell the reviewer how they should have written their review.

While everyone else is reading and thinking about the review, the commenter is stumped because he doesn’t know how anyone could fail to find crotch shots hilarious on so many levels. And someone else finds people who take the time to critique comments on a movie review amusing. See? The internet is a neverending supercilious amusement park ride.

One of the keys to comedic material is that it’s subjective. Ever wonder why some people don’t relate to the things that you relate to? One of the keys to writing a review is to understand the director’s previous work. Ever wonder why so many reviews compare the movie to previous movies from the same director? What kind of a review were you hoping to read at a site called flickfilosopher?

One of the keys to finding a reviewer that is entertaining and useful to you is to understand the perspective that they usually approach movies from. Good luck in your search, I think Matt Pais, or JimmyO might be more up (or down) your alley. Someday, you might even be ready to graduate to Rick Mele, but for now it’s probably best that you just keep practicing looking at the tomatometer percentages and posting haughty comments to show all those snooty critics what it feels like to be criticized. You’ll show them just how amusing they really are. You’ll show them all!

Fri, Sep 04, 2009 1:43am

Oh come on, Adam. Things can be funny–even with crotch shots!–and have a point. MA’s argument is that Mike Judge’s movies usually have a point, and that she couldn’t find a point in this one. Also, as the commenter above reminds you, you really need to know your reviewer and his or her approach to film criticism. I read reviews prior to watching films so I can gauge how I’d like to spend my money, as L.A. prices are exorbitant, and I read certain reviewers who jive with my tastes.

For example, MA is also not very accepting of unexcused misogyny in films, and that is something any reader of her reviews should know by now: if women are portrayed as irredeemably stereotypic manipulators or shrews in a film for no apparent (satirical or otherwise) reason, MA is going to call that film out on it, and quite possibly give the film a poor rating because of it.

I do agree with MA often (though I haven’t always agreed with MA about comedies, e.g. I laughed all through Anchorman), but I generally find myself coming to this site because of her feminist perspective and her refusal to accept pointless film-making. I like when a critic demands that films have a point besides superficial entertainment, because (mass) entertainment and meaningfulness are not as mutually exclusive as the Hollywood executives would have us believe.

I haven’t seen this movie yet, so I don’t have an opinion. But I really loved Office Space, a film in which I found both humor and meaning through satire, so I have high expectations for Extract. We’ll see if I agree with MA or not. I’m just saying: just because a reviewer wants a film with a crotch joke to have a point doesn’t mean he or she is “uptight” or something. That’s what critics are for: to critique, not just laugh along with everyone else at crotch joke after crotch joke and forget that he or she is screening the movie to write a *critical* review.

Fri, Sep 04, 2009 4:18am

@Kate: That is surely a corollary to the Law of Spelling Flames (which always contain a spelling error).

@David Dent: FWIW, the novelist Frank Yerby claimed that he had, while trying to commit art, collected only rejection slips; so he set out deliberately to write the worst novel he possibly could, and behold, it was a bestseller.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Tue, Sep 08, 2009 12:40pm

This movie rocked.

No, it didn’t.

With its cast, it had the potential to rock but it never really went anywhere.

It says something about how dull my Labor Day was that I actually broke down and saw this, hoping to see something that would prove MaryAnn wrong. But, no, I didn’t.

One character seemed to be a parody of the Brad Pitt character in Burn After Reading and I would like to think that Judge was trying to go for the same effect that movie went for. Then again I hated that movie and so did almost everyone in my family so I’m guessing Judge was successful.

One of the keys to comedic material is that it’s relatable to it’s audience.

I actually once worked in a soda pop plant whose assembly line was similar to this movie’s and I still hated this flick.

And not just because it brought back some bad memories. I would have forgiven the movie that if it had had any really imaginative sight gags or funny dialogue or even an original point to make but it didn’t. Its funniest gag–which wasn’t all that funny–was a direct steal from Office Space.