I'm sure there will be much hullabaloo accompanying the release of Mike Judge's "Extract," as the film is a return to the workplace blues genre that made Judge a cult hero with the 1999 picture, "Office Space." The comparison needlessly reduces "Extract" to an afterthought when it's actually a sturdy, uproarious comedy that solidifies Judge's voice as a relaxed filmmaker with impeccable timing and a valuable interest in blending the absurd with the awkwardly real.
As the founder and owner of his own flavor extract company, Joel (Jason Bateman) has to manage a factory floor filled with complaining, dim-witted workers. Dealing with a cooling marriage to wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), Joel shares his sorrow with bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck), who encourages Joel's misery by submitting a constant stream of bad ideas to fix his relationship. When one of their schemes goes awry, Joel is left to pick up the pieces, finding temptation with new hire Cindy (Mila Kunis) and potential bankruptcy with Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), an employee who's been lured to sue Joel when a workplace accident costs him a testicle.
"Office Space" reached universal approval due to its uncanny observations on cubical drudgery, giving the audience a shoulder to cry on while it went about its business cooking up devastating laughs. "Extract" assumes the less glamorous managerial position for the work day, offering the flip side of the coin with Joel and his daily exertion keeping the business on target and his whiny employees focused. The beauty of "Extract" is how Judge keeps the factory sequences modest, deploying them to create a barrier of knuckleheads that add to Joel's growing sense of resignation with his job and marriage, pushing him in a surprisingly organic manner to turn to chemically enhanced acts of rebellion to maintain his edge. "Extract" maybe lacks a sensational narrative, but Judge masterfully brings together divergent tones to nail laughs and perceptive observations.
Judge is still making something very silly, but there's an unpolished realism at play that grounds the film superbly. It's the filmmaker's gift, used to lampoon heartland workplace ethics and expose a core of truth within pure ridiculousness. Judge mastered the art in "Office Space," nurtured prime moments of inspiration out of the abortive "Idiocracy," and regains his footing with "Extract," using Joel to delightfully pinball around this colorful world of yappers (David Koechner kills as Joel's insistently chatty neighbor) and yokels.
The cast assembled is terrific, with special notice paid to Bateman as the eye of the suburban hurricane. Playing the straight man with charming popped-vein frustration, the actor manages to create a vivid depiction of irritation while still keeping laughs a primary concern. The actor is paired well with Affleck, who gives his slacker/tempter role a nice, loose feel to better introduce the script's more flamboyant turns of fate, sharing ribald interplay with Bateman. Judge fills out the rest of the cast with superb character actors (J.K. Simmons, Beth Grant, and even Gene Simmons), each talent hitting a specific note of distress that fills out this peculiar universe.
"Extract" is dry and doesn't quite know what to do with the Kunis character (she's the screenplay spoiler, never offered much dimension), but the film retains a healthy sense of humor. This is Judge's chi, showcasing destructive tendencies as the characters wind their way to inner peace, delivered in a sly manner that deepens the experience, making suffering relatable and hilarious.