Extract, Mike Judge’s new film, is extremely okay. It’s unfortunate that the director seems to have used up his best material in the '90s, but who can top Beavis and Butthead? Judge’s particular brand of Americana comedy mostly works because of his effortless portrayal of PBR-drinkin', John-Deere-drivin' “fellers” as real people, rather than empty stereotypes. And there’s a moment in Extract where a character sits on the couch with an empty bottle of Pepsi, wondering aloud if he should call Domino's to deliver more soda rather than trekking his ass to the store. I laughed so hard I almost choked on my vegan beef jerky. (Okay, I wasn’t really eating vegan beef jerky.) I could hear my grandfather in that scene. But moments like this are rare in Extract; instead, Judge focuses the story on the employer rather than the employee and tries unsuccessfully to find humor outside the workplace. What could potentially be a smart and subversive portrayal of factory life in small-town USA turns out to be a predictable and boring artifice built on ridiculous scenarios and one-note performances.
Joel (Gap poster boy Jason Bateman) is the manager of a successful extract plant, but his life outside of work is less successful: he is stuck in a sexless marriage and he finds himself lusting after the new temp, Cindy (a surprisingly charming Mila Kunis). Things at work go awry when an employee suffers an accident, loses a testicle, and threatens to sue Joel’s plant. Cindy, who also happens to be a con woman, tries to cash in on the lawsuit by romancing both Joel and the one-ball wonder. Meanwhile, Joel has allowed his best friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), to convince him to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), so that he can have guilt-free sex with Cindy. Whatever happened to just buying a sports car and smoking a joint when you turn 40?
Interestingly enough, drugs are an integral part of the humor in Extract. Dean peddles Xanax and ketamine, and it’s only when Joel gobbles some Special K that he decides to hire the gigolo. When Joel needs to de-stress, he hits a massive bong, exhaling a stream of smoke that would make Dave Chappelle look like a novice. Dean’s pot-dealing buddy, Willie (Matt Schulze), is like a drill sergeant who found Jah at Burning Man, and he steals the scene as he tries to freak out an already paranoid Joel. It’s funny to watch straight-laced people get fucked up, but Judge’s characters also use drugs as an escape from the tedium of 9-to-5 hell -- or in Dean’s case, to distract themselves from a bartending job at the local Marriott. It’s a way out for those of us who have to remain (mostly) sober eight hours a day, doing something we don’t want to do.
But, like another well-loved Judge character, King of the Hill's Hank Hill, Joel adores his job. And perhaps this is where Judge makes his biggest mistake. Trading in the brilliantly evil perversion that was Office Space’s Bill Lumbergh for Joel's aw-shucks-we’re-all-a-family type makes Judge seem like a softy. Is he a sell-out? I don’t think so, given the little publicity that this film has received. So if he’s not trying to “mainstream” the black comedy, then why no bite? Maybe it has to do with Judge’s own success and the inevitable distance between the franchise he has built and his country roots. Idiosyncrasy gets lost when you’re on top looking down. Things just ain’t as funny from the boss’ point of view.