Like the similarly deadpan Johnny Cash, comic writer-director Mike Judge walks the line. The description “subtle” isn’t quite right for films like Office Space and Idiocracy, but they tend to be more “funny peculiar” than they are “funny ha ha,” with precise rhythms and facial expressions that spark chuckles of recognition. Plus, you get testicle jokes. At least you do in Judge’s latest, Extract.
The title seemingly refers not only to spray-dried flavoring in variations like vanilla, almond, root beer, and cookies and cream, but also to the creeping suspicion of one Joel Reynold (the invaluable Jason Bateman of Arrested Development) that something is missing in his life. Then again, the title may evoke the audience’s dawning awareness that Joel’s decency and reason remove him from a population defined by greed and stupidity. As the entrepreneurial owner of an extract factory, Joel must also own the role of boss over a workforce that mostly wades in the shallow end of the gene pool. “They’re like a bunch of children,” he sighs. “I feel like a babysitter.”
Beginning to doubt that his straight-arrow attitude is getting him anywhere, Joel makes disastrous attempts to be a little bad. At the local sports bar, Joel’s only friend Dean (Ben Affleck) proves to be a font of bad advice. The aging hipster defaults to recommending drugs--from Xanax to codeine cough syrup--as cure-alls, but he shifts from “high”-concept to high-concept to help his friend get what he wants in his marriage. Since withholding spouse Suzie (Kristen Wiig) is more interested in watching Dancing with the Stars than making love to Joel, Dean suggests hiring a dimwitted gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to entrap Suzie and give Joel the upper hand.
Distracted by this scheme, Joel is missing the big picture at work, where a sexy grifter (Mila Kunis) is poised to ruin a lucrative buyout offer by encouraging a workman’s comp lawsuit over a testicular injury. Joel’s workforce comprises another cracked coterie of Judge characters, including a superior factory supervisor who calls everyone “Dinkus” (J.K. Simmons), a racist busybody (Beth Grant, killing), a grindcore garage rocker (T.J. Miller), and the loyal but unfortunate recipient of a shot to his dangly bits (Clifton Collins, Jr.).
Bateman reliably tickles in his signature role of a square who can’t catch a break, and Wiig once more delivers subtly funny character work in a tricky role. Then there’s Gene Simmons--yes, that Gene Simmons--as a lawyer who advertises at bus stops. It all adds up to vintage Judge, flipping Office Space to show sympathy to a put-upon boss. Judge’s pet peeves haven’t changed, from the unctuous “worst neighbor in the world” (David Koechner, talking like Bill Lumberg from Office Space) to the alluring girl who may be out of the hero’s league (Kunis’ femme fatale).
And who else but Judge can raise a smile from an establishing shot of a brand-name location, whether real (the vaguely sad Best Western Executive Inn) or invented (the sports bar, cheesily named “Sidelines”)?
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Mike Judge doesn't get a lot of love with the rather perfunctory Blu-ray release of Extract. The hi-def transfer, though adequate and no doubt better than its corresponding DVD, is peppered with issues ranging from ringing to telecine wobble (my biggest pet peeve, and inexcusable on a new release); the overall impression is soft and lacking in depth. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't much more impressive, though it seems to make the most of very basic, dialogue-heavy source material in getting the job done.
Bonus features run just slightly over fifteen minutes in length, beginning with "Mike Judge's Secret Recipe" (10:48, HD). This making-of featurette is fun in providing some behind-the-scenes glimpses and a run of interview clips with Judge, Jason Bateman, producer John Altschuler, Mila Kunis, Beth Grant, J.K. Simmons, T.J. Miller, Javier Gutierrez, Clifton Collins Jr., Kristen Wiig, Dustin Milligan, David Koechner, and Gene Simmons.
Exclusive to Blu-ray are five "Extended Scenes" (4:29, SD) and one "Deleted Scene" (:40, SD), but it's a pretty paltry selection yielding little in the way of new or interesting footage. With expectations riding high for Blu-ray titles, this one is a puzzling release. While many Mike Judge fans will be grateful to see the title offered on Blu-ray (as am I), unfortunately they'll have to wait until the price goes down to bargain levels before they get their money's worth.
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