A film review by Craig J. Koban September 8, 2009


2009, R, 93 mins.

Joel: Jason Bateman / Cindy: Mila Kunis / Suzie: Kristen Wiig / Dean: Ben Affleck / Brian: J.K. Simmons / Nathan: David Koechner / Step: Clifton Collins Jr. / Joe: Adler Gene Simmons

Written and directed by Mike Judge.

When Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE was very unceremoniously released in 1999 it almost vanished at the multiplexes before it had a chance to arrive.  Years later, the comedy found a new lease on life on home video and DVD when it triumphantly cemented its status as a cult office-satire classic.  For Judge – who started in animation and then made his foray into live action features – it represented an arrival as a major force in American screen comedy.  

The one thing that I loved about OFFICE SPACE – beyond the fact that it has remained a giggle fest upon numerous repeat viewings – is that it so skillfully and shrewdly examined middle-Americana idiocy, frustration, and the banality of 9 to 5 workplace life.  Even better, what made it such a hysterical original was that it never stigmatized its personas as crude,  rudimentary caricatures: the film’s satiric jabs help to reflect the humanity its targets.  Judge, if anything, is democratic in how he shows his fondness for all of his characters.  Even when they are at their most imbecilic, you never get the impression that he is scornfully ridiculing them – he’s letting us laugh with them and not lazily at them. 

It’s Judge’s off-kilter approach to his stories and characters that make his comedies feel fresh and spontaneous, and he does much of the same in EXTRACT, which is an effective follow-up to OFFICE SPACE in the sense that it dives back into the workplace, but this time Judge changes the focal point.  In OFFICE SPACE Judge made his workplace managers and higher ups odiously smarmy and socially stunted, whereas in EXTRACT he gives a lot more sympathy towards upper management.  Like SPACE, EXTRACT has splendid flashes of Judge’s acidic wit and penchant for demented observation of the everyday people that populate it.  Even though the film’s central “hero” (if you can call him that) is very much an affluent, upper class boss, Judge still reflects his perceptive ability to dissect the inertia of the working class stiff.  Yet, as preposterous and dim-witted as the characters are in the film, Judge is never truly condescending with his portrayals of them: his approach is quite coolheaded – the white trash and the white collared here command equal respect and mockery.  Lesser comedies are not as deceptively witty in their approach. 

Joel (Jason Bateman, in a brilliantly low-key comic performance of frustration and paranoia) is certainly more financially well off then the cubical worker-slackers of OFFICE SPACE.  He has a lavish home, a very attractive wife, and, best of all, he is the president and owner of a highly lucrative company that he started from next to nothing (which, incidentally, makes extract).  His work life is fruitful and rewarding, but not without its stresses: many of his employees are chronic bickerers about workplace conditions on the assembling line floor, but more or less they just complain for the sake of complaining and feeling empowered.  On one fateful day a very preventable accident occurs which leads to one manager-in-training, Step (a dryly funny Clifton Collins, Jr.) losing one testicle and maybe – gasp! – his other remaining one.  The accident is a big problem for Joel and his partner (played in a finely tuned performance by J.K. Simmons, who can't seem to remember the workers' names, so he just calls everyone "Dinkus") seeing as General Mills was poised to by the business and allow for the pair to retire very early.  Now, accident in tow, the buyers are having cold feet. 

Things get doubly complicated for poor Joel when  a gorgeous new bombshell of a worker arrives named Cindy (the ravishing Mila Kunis), who – unbeknownst to him – is actually a sly con woman that uses her slinky sexuality to help cloud her naïve victims’ minds.  Her innate power stems primarily from the fact that (a) she’s a total babe and (b) any dim-witted male fool will believe anything a total babe tells them even if she was only modestly persuasively (which is highlighted in the film’s smart and hilarious opening scene).  Cindy decides to do some homework and cozies up to Step and convinces him that he should – nay, must – sue Joel and his company for everything he’s worth. 

While dealing with the inevitability of the upcoming legal hassles, Joel has to deal with one real nagging problem: his complete and hopeless sexual frustration on the home front.  Joel’s wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig, who is capable of being uproarious with so much as a glance or gesture) continually stymies Joel’s desire for after-work-sex.  This is revealed in a devilishly funny sequence where Joel states that - once it’s 8pm and Suzie puts on her sweat pants - he “gets nothing.”  He gets home just before 8pm one night, but Judge frames Suzie’s entrance into the living room to greet him with a voyeuristic slo-mo shot of her tightening her sweat pants strings that only seems to reflect a metaphorical noose being tied around Joel’s irritated neck.  He gets so perturbed by his wife’s lack of foreplay that he begins to have feelings for Cindy at work.  However, he is a good man at heart and does not want to cheat on his wife…unless…. 

...well…Joel is not sure what to do, so he consults his bartender friend, Dean (Ben Affleck, an unadulterated hoot here) that hatches an incredibly ludicrous plan for him (which Joel agrees to partake in only after he accidentally gets really high on some horse tranquilizers that Dean gives him - he thinks they are Xanax pills).  They will hire a gigolo, Brad (Dustin Milligan, nearly stealing the film)...actually...make that the most clueless and idiotic gigolo in the world...to pose as a pool man back home so he can try to seduce Suzie.  If he is successfully, Joel will then feel comfortable enough with having his own affair with Cindy, even though he does not know that she’s really a scammer.  The plan sounds good to the stoned Joel, but when he is sober later on he regrets his choice, but it’s too late, seeing as the him-bo he hired has already been successful…over a dozen times. 

Again, the one thing that Judge does with a razor sharp conviction is how he dissects the monotonous commonplace elements of his workplace universe: no one is more gifted at showing work for what it often is – painfully repetitive, unrewarding, and soul crushing.  Even when some of the workers themselves are uncultured trailer park trash or elderly racist hags that hate Hispanics or twenty-something grunge-obsessed weirdoes that have death metal bands named “God’s Cock”, Judge never lets them regress into one-note losers.  They feel like real people we have all encountered at one point or another.  Then, when the film does not skillfully focus on the limitless triteness of these people on the job, Judge artfully explores the dynamics of the loveless marriage and male paranoid delusions of infidelity.  At first, it may seem incredulous to buy that a straight-laced and decent chap like Joel would actually succumb to hiring a male whore to coerce his wife into bed to help ease his sexual frustration, but don’t forget – he was drugged up on horse tranquilizers at the time and he was really tantalized with the thought of bedding Cindy.  The genius of Judge here is in how he taps into the fragility of male self-image – he dexterously shows how even smart and successful men like Joel can regress into doing really foolish things.  It also helps when some men inanely follow the Dr. Phil-like relationship advice of an inebriated bartender like Dean with enough meds to start a pharmaceutical company.

Most of the performances in the film hit a specifically regulated comic tone perfectly throughout: Jason Bateman is cagey enough to understand that the best way to play comedy is to play things straight and try hard not to be funny (even in one scene, where he takes what has to be the longest bong hits I’ve ever witnessed, his deeply intoxicated reaction to the massive ingestion of dope smoke never feels aggressively broad).  A nice compliment to his understated comic performance is Wiig, who is both a physically appealing actress and a maestro of impeccable timing.  A dinner scene between the pair - where a deeply angry Joel thinks she has been unfaithful with the gigolo - is played with  just the right repressed pathos and misunderstanding.

Three other performances are real standouts: the first is from David Koechner who plays one of Joel’s nosey neighbours that just happens to be one of the most uncompromisingly dull, boring, and painfully square doofuses I’ve seen in a film (the key here is that Koechner always plays the role with an annoyingly calm spoken inflection, which makes all of his impromptu appearances in Joel’s life that much more maddening for him).  Then there is Affleck as the pill-popping, bad-advice dispensing, goofball bartender with a heart of gold, but with an alarming lack of good common sense (“Marijuana is not a drug," he informs Joel at one point, “it’s a plant.”).  Dean also believes that Xanax can heal everything…even the common cold.  Affleck frees up his inhibitions and sense of celebrity ego and fully embraces his chronic stoner here to hilarious effect.  Finally, there’s Dustin Milligan as the blond haired, six-packed adorned, and sub-humanly stupid prostitute that single-handedly gets the film’s largest laughs.  What’s most funny about him is that – even when he's given the most obvious of specific instructions and suggestions – he ignores them as he lives in a state of perpetual tunnel vision.  Nonetheless, he's still oddly likeable because he’s so earnest and considerate.  He occupies a late scene in the film that has to be one of the most knee-slappingly amusing break-up moments in a long time.   

What I left with after seeing EXTRACT - much like I felt after OFFICE SPACE - was that this very modest comic universe that Judge has established here is so fully realized, right down to all of the character’s subtle – and not-so-subtle – nuances and proclivities.  The film works very well as a venomous portrait of the everyman and their conflicted workplace, and Judge is meticulous – but fair - with his comedic attacks.  He populates the film with colorful and weirdly eccentric people, but he always places them within a real-world vibe: EXTRACT is fiendishly observant of its working class targets, but is not mean-spirited in its outlook because it both celebrates and mocks these stiffs.  Best of all, Judge manages to proficiently punctuate the film with so many unexpected moments of clever hilarity that manages to place the audience off balance, which is tricky for comedies to pull off effectively.  EXTRACT will most certainly not garner the level of cult appeal and enter the cultural lexicon of OFFICE SPACE (what comedy could?) but Judge’s third big screen comedy is arguably as crafty, sharp, sure-footed, and (let me tap into my inner Lumbergh)...um, yeah….droll. 

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