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Schlemiel, schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated. We’re going to do it….
While many who troop to see Mike Judge’s Extract might be too young to remember the opening of Laverne & Shirley, for the 35-and-over crowd it’ll be impossible to watch the opening scene of bottles rattling along a conveyor belt and not think fondly of Laverne’s glove sitting atop a beer bottle as it passes through the factory. But it’s hard to imagine Laverne and Shirley getting high, hiring male prostitutes and cracking jokes about amputated male genitalia, so the similarities stop as soon as the opening credits are done.
Writer-director Judge, whose other offspring include Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill, and cult-fave Office Space, returns to the work world for Extract. He’s also answering a question: How many testicle jokes can be crammed into one film?
In addition to moving out of the cubicle and into the factory, Judge is also shifting the focus to the management side of the business rather than on just the worker bees. But the boss is rarely as outrageous as the peons, so Judge is forced to spend a fair amount of time on the factory floor. This upstairs/downstairs approach is disjointed and does little more than imply that everyone at the factory has been huffing too much of the product and now wallows in stupidity.
Owner Joel (Jason Bateman) is obsessed with his day job, which is good because it’s the only kind of job he gets. Wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) works out of the house and if Joel isn’t home by 8 p.m., the chastity belt of sweatpants goes on for the duration. Joel’s only release in life is when he heads to his local hotel bar where he gets to unload his problems to bartender Dean (Ben Affleck). Whether Joel is complaining about a bad day at the factory or delivering a diatribe about why he needs to remodel his house in order to masturbate, Dean has the solution in his little pillbox.
Joel’s frustrating life is cruising along on autopilot until that age-old adage comes into play: It’s all fun and games until someone loses a testicle. After a freak factory accident takes one of Step’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) jewels, sexy temp worker Cindy (Mila Kunis) shows up to try and cash in on the OSHA violation. And Joel will never be the same man again. (For that matter, neither will Step.)
Schoolyard humor aside, the concept of Extract is more to blame for the film’s shortcomings than the execution. Joel’s regular life, the one that’s supposed to be dull, is so outlandish that when Judge amps it up to the next level it’s like giving caffeine to the Tasmanian Devil. The storylines never form cohesively and the finished product is somehow underbaked and burned at the same time.
Despite the questionable plot, it’s still possible to sit back and enjoy the performances. Bateman is playing a familiar role – the nice guy. But unlike Michael Bluth, Bateman’s wonderful role on Arrested Development, Joel’s got a lot more of an edge (can you picture Michael taking a horse tranquilizer and hiring a gigolo?). In the role, Bateman is charming, funny, low-key, and makes Joel someone you can empathize with even as he’s paying the pool boy to try to have sex with his wife.
As for the rest of the cast, it’s a great collection of oddballs and wing nuts. Wiig is the most low-key in the bunch, giving a fine, almost dramatic, performance in an otherwise crazy world. Affleck is ridiculous as the crazy bartender, but frankly it’s the ideal role for him. He’s not required to do anything more than say crazy shit and laugh. As the ingénue, Kunis gets by the same way her character does – by looking pretty and smiling seductively.
In addition to putting together a strong cast to compensate for a weak script, Judge’s biggest accomplishment is the film’s music. He pairs musical genres brilliantly with each scene. When someone loses his home and wife, it’s country music; when discussing the importance of testicles, it’s a heavenly choir singing. Judge proves he’s capable of more than just jokes about balls. Sometimes.
While it lacks the charm and indelible characters of Office Space, Extract is still better than your average day of work. Though that’s probably not a high bar for most.
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