Monday, September 7, 2009

Extract Delivers Little Juice

Mike Judge, creator of such TV wonders as "Bevis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill," has taken to the big screen once again with the comedy Extract, which stars Jason Bateman as Joel, a successful small business owner, making flavored extracts with his hired assembly line of hicks, losers, immigrants, and complainers.

I wish I could say this movie was better than it is. Bateman is a sincere actor who often brings an air of refreshing reality to his performances. The movie is supported by SNL's Kristin Wiig as Bateman's wife, Ben Affleck as his best bud, and the ever entertaining J.K. Simmons (of Spiderman and "The Closer" fame) as his plant manager and business partner, yet despite the nice casting, it never gets off the ground.

Judge's film centers on the shenanigans of a female drifter and knock-out, Cindy (played by Mila Kunis, the "other girl" in Forgetting Sarah Marshal). We are given a demonstration of how Cindy's way with men allows her to perpetuate all sorts of small-time scams; and then Cindy thinks she's hit the big time when she reads about a testicular accident (don't ask) at Joel's plant, and sets her sights on scamming Joel. Meanwhile, as Joel becomes more infatuated with Cindy, he turns to his bud Brad for advice, who insists that he hire a brainless gigolo, Brad, to sleep with his wife so that he'll feel less guilty about wanting to get it on with Cindy.

It's hard to believe that a successful business owner heading into his forties - let alone one played with the kind of beleaguered sincerity Bateman typically brings to his performances - would engage in the kind of teenage juvenalia of this Cindy/Brad/Ben Affleck triangle dictates. The young and handsome Brad is essentially a good-looking Beavis to counter Joel's grown-up Butthead. But the forty-year-old Beavis and Butthead thing just seems rather charmless to me. I'd tell these characters to grow up if it weren't that Joel was already so serious about everything to begin with.

Meanwhile, Cindy gets her claws into one of Joel's employees and threatens to bring Joel's life crashing down with a frivolous lawsuit. Gene Simmons breaths a bit of life into the story as the greasy lawyer trying to shake down Joel and his partner. But it's just not enough to sustain a script that's filled with routine gags like a nosey neighbor, snooty assembly line workers, and a married sex life deadened by eight-o'clock sweat pants.

The film would like to turn the fear of turning forty, and the fear of success, into a black comedy of errors. It simply isn't black enough or comedic enough. Perhaps it goes wrong in trying to mix the "King of the Hill" culture of hicks and losers with a grown-up successful Butthead who's only issue seems to be that he needs more private time to whack it. The directing feels very TV-like and we're given only modest inconveniences for Joel to contend with. If Joel was really frightened by his life, he'd be looking for a lot more trouble than this silly Cindy and stupid Brad represents. Judge just doesn't seem to be the right person to try to tackle this subject matter. Success, it seems, is really not his forte.

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