Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: "Extract"

If you were to turn in "Extract" for a screenwriting class, it probably wouldn't get a very good grade.

The latest from writer/director Mike Judge ("Office Space") doesn't really have much of a structure. The characters just sort of flit in and out of the story, appearing when they have something amusing to offer, and disappearing when they don't. Nobody learns any important lessons, or changes fundamentally as a person.

As the film opens, a bunch of misfit characters are working at an extract factory, and at the end they're still plugging away making vanilla, cherry and root beer flavoring.

And yet, they're an entertaining enough bunch that we feel like the visit was worth stopping by. The movie doesn't have a huge number of gut-busting laughs, but plenty of gregarious chuckles.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, the owner of Reynold's Extracts. He's got a nice car, a big McMansion and even the possibility of General Mills making a bid on his company, which would allow him to retire early with a nice pile.

On the negative side, Joel's love life isn't going so well. His wife (the wonderful Kristen Wiig, who's not given enough to do here) has set an unofficial 8 p.m. sweatpants deadline: If he doesn't get home by 8 to make his move, on go her frumpy sweatpants and out goes any chance of amore for the evening. It's become a pattern, so Joel spends most of his nights down at the local bar, venting his frustration to Dean (Ben Affleck), the slightly crunchy bartender.

This all probably would have continued as is, except for two new developments. A freak accident at the factory causes Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), the bossy sorter harboring dreams of promotion to floor manager, to lose a testicle (actually both, but they manage to reattach one). And Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sexy girl grifter, takes a job at Joel's factory in search of a score.

Joel pines for Cindy, but is too much of a mensch to cheat on his wife, so one night in a drug-induced haze courtesy of Dean, they launch a scheme to hire a gigolo to seduce Joel's wife, thus freeing him up from any guilt trip about having his own affair. Meanwhile, Cindy shacks up with Step and convinces him to sue the company. And things get progressively more daffy from there.

There's a wacky and yet somehow plausible host of minor characters. J.K. Simmons plays Joel's right-hand man, who can't remember the employees' names so he refers to everybody as "dingus." Gene Simmons shows up as Step's slimy TV lawyer, who offers to drop the lawsuit if Joel will allow his own manhood to be slammed in a door.

For anybody who's ever worked in a blue-collar setting, Judge's collection of prickly personalities and overblown conflicts feels spot-on. Tying it all together is Bateman, playing a basically decent guy who accidentally drives his life off a cliff one day.

Here's a warning: If a really hot girl acts like she's interested in something extremely boring, watch your wallet.

3 stars

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