Director Mike Judge understands crappy jobs. “Office Space,” his 1998 cult comedy, is not only a very funny look into minimum wage but an insightful one as well. Ditto his new work place comedy “Extract,” except for the funny part. It nails the workplace dynamic but unfortunately it isn’t nearly as laugh out loud as you would expect from the creator of “Beavis and Butthead.”
“Extract” stars Jason Bateman as Joel, the owner of Reynolds’s Extract Company. He’s an unhappy, sexually frustrated former bartender and chemistry major obsessed with flavor extracts; pure, mostly colorless, concentrated flavors used in baking. Looking for a way out of his business and marriage complicates his life. Taking bad advice from his friend Dean (Ben Affleck), a bartender and self proclaimed spiritualist and healer he hires a dimwitted gigolo to test his wife’s fidelity, tries to stave off a lawsuit from an injured employee and falls for Cindy (Mila Kunis) a beautiful kleptomaniac who almost costs him everything.
“Extract” has some funny moments. David Koechner as the neighbor from hell is as amusing a character as we’re likely to see this year and there is a bong scene that gives Cheech and Chong a run for their money, but by and large it’s a great example of the trailer giving away all the best moments. The film is a bit of a comedy flat line but you’d never know it from the trailer which showcases at least four solid laughs. Too bad the movie only has six or seven in total.
Having said that, “Extract” is a likeable movie. The story plays well enough without nonstop laughs and the main and supporting casts are interesting.
Jason Bateman brings a low key charm to Joel. As his life spins out of control Bateman slowly ratchets up the anxiety level and even though the situation is unbelievable—I can’t imagine too many men hiring a gigolo to tempt their better half—he grounds the role in realism. The beauty of the performance is that the viewer feels for him even though he’s making every mistake in the book.
Mila Kunis smolders as Cindy the manipulative con woman and Ben Affleck continues his career rehabilitation with a supporting role that plays against the leading man type roles that nearly sunk him a few years ago.
When the movie shifts away from the main characters the casting is just as strong. The odd cast of losers, loners and nonconformists that populate the factory are a colorful addition to a film already ripe with strong characters.
“Extract” is billing itself as a comedy which does it a disservice. It isn’t funny enough to compete against “The Hangovers” and the “Brunos” of the summer season, but it does succeed as an engaging character study.