Extract (2009)

17 Feb

‘Extract’ is the latest offering from Mike Judge, the brains behind ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ and ‘King of the Hill’. Though his animated output lacks the populist punch of ‘The Simpsons’ or the outrage-baiting crudity of ‘South Park’, its slyly subversive social satire was laced with a mordant, misanthropic sting in its transition to the big screen. His debut live action feature ‘Office Space’ (1999) is a scalpel-sharp dissection of the modern workplace, perfectly capturing the horror of disparate personalities trapped together before Ricky Gervais was hailed as a genius for doing so. His follow-up, ‘Idiocracy’ (2006), is an excoriating attack on our rapidly diminishing attention spans, taking place in a future where the average IQ has plummeted to the point that an average man from the past is the smartest man alive. ‘Extract’ continues in the same uncomfortably funny vein, forcing us to recognize flaws in ourselves.

Joel (Jason Bateman) is the owner of a factory manufacturing extract flavourings. Though seemingly secure, his life is slowly unravelling around him – his marriage is faltering and his business is put at risk when one of his employees, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), loses a testicle in a freak accident. Step is urged to sue by Cindy (Mila Kunis), a pretty grifter who takes a job at the factory in order to scam Step out if his settlement. Under the influence of a Ketamine pill given to him by his drug-addled friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), Joel is talked into a ploy whereby he gets his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), to cheat on him with a gigolo so he can pursue Cindy ‘guilt-free’. This decision sets in motion a chaotic chain of events that throws everything off kilter and threatens to destroy everything Joel has spent his life building.

Bateman brings the same uptight exasperation that made him so compelling in ‘Arrested Development’, desperately trying to hold everything together as complications are flung at him. Affleck’s performance harkens back to the time when he was an integral part of Kevin Smith’s comic repertory in the likes of ‘Chasing Amy’ and ‘Dogma’, submerging himself beneath a beard and a ridiculous wig as a self-proclaimed ‘entrepreneur and spiritualist’. Wiig is a talented comic actress, but she is underutilized as Joel’s wife. She is lumbered with a paltry role lacking in definition, used in a reactive capacity in all but a few key scenes. Kunis is perfectly cast as someone who uses their sexuality to get what they want; she is a plausible femme fatale, toying with the emotions of her marks, manipulating the guileless dupes who stand in her way. ‘Extract’ is bolstered by a number of entertaining supporting performances – the ever-reliable J.K. Simmons as Joel’s embittered assistant, David Koechner as Joel’s tiresome, over-familiar neighbour, Beth Grant in typically shrill form as a bigoted employee, Dustin Milligan as the dim-witted gigolo, and rock legend Gene Simmons as a slimy, obnoxious personal injury lawyer.

‘Extract’ shares much with Judge’s other work in its depiction of people trapped by circumstance; be it menial tedium, domestic drudgery, small-town values or their own innate stupidity. Judge highlights the absurdities of corporate culture, laying bare the petty grievances, casual cruelties, pointless rivalries and thwarted ambitions that characterise the working environment. The film’s aesthetic highlights this uninspiring, homogenous landscape; a garishly lit sprawl of fast food franchises and chain bars that inspires only ennui. Judge posits that we are all slaves to convention and status, reserving equal scorn for the cod-spirituality of drug users, the faux-authenticity of suburban rockers and those who coast on their looks. Rednecks and poseurs, alternative or mainstream, Judge treats everyone with equal disdain, all of them being symptoms of a culture swimming in convenience and drowning in abundance. ‘Extract’ compensates for being short on laughs by presenting richly observed characters struggling with a culture that makes them feel small, detached, expendable and powerless. Too dark to find success with a mass audience, ‘Extract’ cements Judge’s pedigree for producing black, insightful comedy that refuses to pander to its audience.

Can you see the join?

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