Mike Judge is rather a peculiar comic filmmaker; he comes from a background of animation (he created Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill) but his live-action films are notable not only for their flat, drab visuals, but for their less than animated style. He is fascinated by the banal lives of dull people, by the daily grind of clockwatchers and dregs and the stupid people who make them seem comparatively exciting. The Judge universe is filled with flavorless chain restaurants and depressing hotel sports bars and beige cubicles and gray assembly lines; even his sci-fi comedy, Idiocracy, imagined a future comprised almost entirely of fast food restaurants and city-sized discount stores.
His new film, Extract, has been marketed as something of a follow-up to his 1998 cult hit Office Space, with one crucial difference: that film was about the drones battling management, while this new picture has, as its protagonist, the boss. Jason Bateman plays Joel Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Extract, a fairly successful small manufacturing company (their product, flavored extract, feels like a joke that never quite pays off). The business is on the verge of a profitable buyout from General Mills when an unfortunate workplace accident leaves would-be floor manager Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), well, somewhat less of a man. Step's indecision about whether to pursue a buyout-killing lawsuit seems to occur right around the same time that the lovely Cindy (Mila Kunis) arrives as a new temp worker... which may not be a coincidence.
Joel's life at home is about as messy as it is at work; he laments the dearth of sex with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), and Cindy's flirtations get him thinking affair, though he can't pull the trigger out of guilt. His bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck) comes up with a solution: hire a gigolo to seduce the wife, and then he can have guilt-free extracurricular intercourse. Joel ends up going along with it, mainly because of the horse tranquilizer.
You get the idea. For a movie light on plot, there's an awful lot going on in Extract, which propels itself from scene to scene more out of good-natured curiosity than genuine comic momentum. It doesn't have the kind of motor that a great comedy requires, but it's got enough funny bits and inspired (if occasionally underdeveloped) concepts to more than sustain viewer interest. If it clatters around and feels a bit rudderless, it's hard to get too picky about movie with this many engaging performances and clever observational humor.
Bateman, of the still-lamented Arrested Development, continues to reign supreme as one of the best re-actors in the business; he's got plenty of funny lines ("Are we still looking into replacing her with a robot?"), but his biggest laughs are prompted by a furrowed brow or a simple "Yep." Affleck is funny as hell (he's never quite gotten his due as a genuinely gifted comic actor), avoiding most of the clichés of the stoner buddy and still ably delivering the following defense of pot: "It's not a drug, it's a flower!"
Kunis, who showed heretofore unknown depths and charm in last year's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is mostly wasted in a role that doesn't require much more than to look ridiculously hot (which, don't get me wrong, she's more than qualified for). But Wiig gets a couple of chances to shine, J.K. Simmons reaffirms his status as one of our most valuable utility players, and David Koechner's dreary, monotonous neighbor is a running gag with a wonderfully unexpected punchline.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
As with Judge's previous films, Extract suffers from a bit of image flatness that may owe a little something to the director's animation background. The MPEG-4 AVC transfer preserves the minimal dimensionality; details are good, black levels are rich, and the warm palate is nicely reproduced. However, the overall image is strangely washed-out; skin tones and contrast aren't quite as full as we're accustomed to seeing on a new Blu-ray release (particularly when the clips are contrasted with the HD behind-the-scenes footage and interviews in the featurette). While it's not an unpleasant-looking movie, it looks, oddly, several years older than it is.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a bit much for a picture as low-fi as this one; it's a dialogue-heavy comedy, so most of the action is front and center. Occasional directional effects are well-placed, while dialogue is crisp and audible and the frequent music cues are nicely modulated. Rear channels are used sparingly though effectively; the slapstick centerpiece of the first act (a Rube Goldberg-esque factory mishap) zips all over the soundstage, and other scenes on the floor have some quiet play in the back. But the frequent bar scenes and other active environments are mostly muted and stuck in the front. It's a decent mix, but nothing exceptional.
A French 5.1 Dolby Digital track is also included, along with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Mike Judge films have traditionally come to the marketplace with little in the way of bonus content (at least on original release; Office Space got an improved special edition back in 2005); Extract is, unfortunately, no exception. The "Mike Judge's Secret Recipe" (10:48) featurette is brief though well-done; it's a little fluffy, but it has some interesting behind-the-scenes footage and funny moments (including a goofy bit about Judge's cameo). Exclusive to Blu are five modestly amusing Extended Scenes (4:29 total); all are minor extensions of the Bateman-Affleck scenes. Finally, we have one funny Deleted Scene (0:37), also a Blu-ray exclusive. That's right, us Blu-ray viewers get almost six minutes of extra stuff! The investment pays off in spades, my friends.
Extract arrives during a particularly solid year for mainstream studio comedy (in the wake of I Love You, Man, Adventureland, Observe and Report, Funny People, Bruno, and The Hangover, among others), and it places towards the back of that pack. But it's still a good time, and offers some terrific moments, even if they don't quite congeal into a unified piece of work.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.