Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Review: Extract

Mike Judge is someone whose work I always enjoy, even though (or maybe especially because) it's usually low key and driven by average guys. But it can sneak up on you with its addictiveness.

Office Space, for example, went from a limited release, low-key, low-budget film to a cult classic adored by millions. Idiocracy? Well, maybe not so big, but still a cult classic. Even "King of the Hill", which just ended its run last week, succeeded quietly, spending its run in the shadow of the iconic Simpsons and the far splashier "Family Guy". And I suspect we'll see "The Goode Family" build up the same kind of hard-core following, even if they don't bring it back.

We won't even talk about Beavis and Butthead, primarily because I'm not sure where that fits into the whole pantheon.

So, I wasn't too surprised to see his latest movie Extract, spend one week at a few regular theaters—just surprised it jumped immediately to the second run theater. So The Boy and I rushed out to see it.

We laughed. A lot. As to be expected. But does this movie have the kind of grows-on-you cult-watchability of his other movies? Not a freakin' clue. I'd have to rewatch it.

It is a bit ickier than his other films, I think. Though it's ultimately handled with a typically kind and light touch, it feels kind of weird when it's happening.

The premise is that Joel, a middle-aged man who built a successful extract factory, has become discontented on a couple of levels: First, he's not getting any lovin' from the wife (in a funny bit you can see parts of in the trailer); second, he's somewhat disenchanted with his life's calling of making extracts.

This second point is very secondary. We see and can understand why Joel's unhappy with aspects of his factory and the life-changes his wealth has brought him; but he's actually pretty passionate about extracts so his desire to retire ultimately seems to come down to the first point, and to a degree the encouragement of his colleague.

Anyway, into this mix is dropped a gorgeous con-girl, Cindy, a grifter who sees an opportunity when Step, one of the workers at the plant, suffers a freak accident. The accident, amusingly, occurs when one of the other workers, who's obsessed with how much work everyone else is or isn't doing, decides to let the machines roll even though doing so is bound to cause some sort of foul-up.

I've never worked in a plant like this, but from the people I've know who have, there are a lot of people who shoot themselves (and the plant) in the foot out of some perceived injustice. There are just a lot more of 'em at Joel's plant. He seems to have a soft spot for screw-ups.

Cindy's pursuit of Step takes her across Joel's path. And as we see in every single scene she's in, Cindy uses her sexuality to deal with everything.

That might be enough to get the ball rolling, but for good measure, Joel has a bartender buddy (former co-worker) who gives him all kinds of sage advice, like how, as the owner of the company, he could have any woman he wanted who worked for them. (Though they're mostly men and not very attractive.) And also, how, if his wife had an affair, he could also have an affair guilt-free.

It's sounds almost French, doesn't it?

The casting, typical for a Judge movie, is near perfect. Jason Bateman plays the milquetoast-y Joel with Kristen Wiig as his wife. Wiig does a great job, playing a very sympathetic woman in contrast to her usual quirky, sort-of cold comic character (seen in Ghost Town and Knocked Up). Mila Kunis is perfectly believable as Cindy, the sexpot without a heart of gold, though it's a little hard to dislike her as much as we should.

David Koechner plays the neighbor from Hell, a latter-day Lumberg, J.K. Simmons is the colleague who refers to all of the employees as "Dinkus". Dustin Milligan is the world's dumbest gigolo. Beth Grant, last seen as the mother-in-law in No Country For Old Men is the woman who will wreck the plant to prove a point. Repeatedly. Gene Simmons plays a rapacious bus-stop-bench-advertising lawyer also out to shut the plant down out of sheer greed.

And, finally, in my favorite role of his since he played himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Ben Affleck is the drug-dealing bartender who basically guides Joel down the path of losing his marbles. He's really good at these kinds of roles; he should do more of them. (I shouldn't knock the guy; he was really good as George Reeve in Hollywoodland.)

But really, this is Bateman's movie to carry, just as Ron Livingston had to make Office Space work and Luke Wilson had to make Idiocracy worth watching. Judge makes movies about Everyman and the Everyman has to be sympathetic and empathetic. Bateman's one of my favorite actors, since the short-lived '80s series "It's Your Move", and I love how he can turn up as a stoner jock in one movie (Dodgeball), an uptight white-collar worker in the next (The Break Up) and a smarmy won't-grow-up musician in the next (Juno).

But did he have enough warmth to pull this off? I'm not really sure. And I mean that exactly: I'm not sure. It might be that the movie didn't quite work for me at some levels and I'm looking around for reasons why.

The situation does get dire in this movie—Judge is excellent at making you wonder how the hell his characters are going to get out the messes they've made—and I felt like the resolution was a little pat. But it sort of had to be. It is a comedy, after all.

And it had what I consider to be Judge's trademark kindness. The movie isn't mean-spirited or misanthropic, so that goes a long way in my book. And while there was quite a bit about sex, it wasn't graphic. It was way less than TV level, frankly. (I didn't notice the language, though, so I guess that, and the drug use put it into the "R" category.)

I'm glad I saw it, and The Boy liked it a lot, if for no other reason then he was worried it was going to just turn into a downer and it didn't. But I'd recommend it selectively, and heavily to the people I know who work in plants. It's not Office Space level of classic, since there's much less about the actual workings, but I suspect it's eerily accurate.

There was another unusual thing about this movie: It's basically business-positive, which is rare, and the first time I can remember such a thing in a decade. Ultimately Joel is heroic in his own way and lauded simply because he likes to work, and built a business where other people (who might not be highly employable) can work, too.

Even when there's talk of a takeover, the company making the bid isn't shown as a villain. The workers are shown as rather short-sighted, interestingly. And, of course, the lawyer is just as wicked as the criminal who hires him.

The Boy liked it.

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