Status: In theaters (opened 9/4/09)
Directed By: Mike Judge
Written By: Mike Judge
Cinematographer: Tim Suhrstedt
Starring: Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Kristin Wiig, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr.
If you told me there was a girl who was so attractive and charming, whose piercing eyes and somewhat exotic look gave her the ability to effortlessly sucker men into just about anything, I’d probably picture Mila Kunis. After her breakout role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (and a somewhat throwaway appearance in the mostly forgettable Max Payne), Mike Judge has given her a role she was born to play in his new film, Extract. It’s no wonder Joel (Jason Bateman) falls for her allures, and finds himself in over his head with a far-fetched scheme to land her.
The fact that Joel’s married to an unexciting, reality show-obsessed homebody (the always-kitschy Kristen Wiig) certainly contributes to his desires—not to mention his sexual frustration—but it’s the indelible appeal of Cindy (Kunis) that drives him over the edge. He’s helped by a hair-brained plan hatched by his bartender pal Dean (Ben Affleck). It’s one of those plots that even the participants know couldn’t possibly work, until it does.
Joel owns a food-flavoring plant, which he operates with his partner Brian, played by J.K. Simmons, an actor who manages to remain funny even while playing essentially the same role in movie after movie, making me wonder how many of those roles are written specifically for him. Their aspiring floor manager is Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), a redneck stereotype who isn’t played as much for his gullibility as for his charm. He’s the victim of a rather unfortunate accident that throws a wrench into everybody’s works.
Mike Judge’s story intersects all of these characters’ fates, with Kunis’s Cindy at the center of it all. There’s humor at every turn, though it’s not as outlandish as you might’ve come to expect from Judge’s previous films (the nerd-cult classic Office Space and the universally under-appreciated Idiocracy). These characters are all gullible nearly to the point of being delusional, and they manage to get themselves into a shared mess. The story structure is essentially the same as that of Office Space, although the main character here (Bateman’s Joel) is the boss rather than the drone. There’s even an annoyingly over-acted Milton-esque character, played by renowned annoying over-actor David Koechner.
While the formula is somewhat familiar, the execution is a bit more mature. Extract is Mike Judge’s most subtle work to date, presenting us with characters who aren’t so much the absurd caricatures we’re used to seeing from the creator of Beavis and Butt-head, but ones who are more believable and relatable. Jason Bateman is as likable as always, presenting Joel’s innocent demeanor and self-deprecating attitude in a charming and sympathetic manner. Ben Affleck continues to show that he’s often overlooked as an actor; his bad advice-dispensing bartender here provides most of the film’s comedic highlights, and his timing and delivery is surprisingly good. Even Koechner and Collins Jr., two actors with a strong tendency to go a bit overboard with their performances, manage to tone things down just enough to be tolerable, complementing the tone of the film without yanking the audience out of its story every time they appear onscreen. And Mila Kunis continues to be a mesmerizing actress: her vibrant smile and bright eyes—and her subtle Ukrainian accent—command the screen throughout each of her scenes, and she provides the type of emotional punctuation that helps to round out a film like this.
Extract is an understated comedy, but a pleasing one nonetheless. It’s the kind of movie that presents characters and situations you become invested in without realizing it. It won’t have you laughing out loud very often, but you’ll find yourself smiling throughout.