Movies: Dan Zak Reviews Mike Judge's 'Extract,' Starring Jason Bateman
Friday, September 4, 2009
"Extract" may be the most disappointing American comedy of the decade, partly because it's jokeless and joyless but mostly because it squanders an all-star cast of superb comic talent. Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, David Koechner, Ben Affleck and their director (Mike Judge, creator of "Office Space" and TV's "King of the Hill") have violated the trust of their respective fan bases by participating in this extremely dismal project. "Extract" is a deflated balloon, a sour grape, a real Eeyore of a movie.
Bateman is a great comic straight man, as evidenced by his sterling work as a put-upon brother in the dearly departed TV series "Arrested Development." In "Extract," he's the owner of a food flavoring factory in a nondescript suburb of gated communities and hotel bars. His traitless wife (Wiig) won't have sex with him. His best friend is a scuzzy, pill-popping bartender played by Affleck. His employees at the factory are morons. His neighbor (Koechner) is a moron. Everyone in this movie is pathologically moronic, obnoxious without also being funny, and every scene exists only to irk or infuriate Bateman's character.
This worked in "Arrested Development" because the characters had at least one other dimension besides "moronic" (usually that dimension was "funny"). Here, Bateman has nothing to work with. Even J.K. Simmons, a reliable screen presence in any kind of movie ("Spider-Man" to "Juno"), has been saddled with the painfully unfunny role of a thick-skulled factory manager whose lines are completely without punch. Judge seems to have either a careless disregard for his characters or a stunning lack of imagination.
Jeepers, it's bad. Kunis plays a factory employee with a criminal agenda, which gives the movie some semblance of plot and cleavage. Let's see, what else? Bateman ends up baiting his wife into committing adultery with a gigolo. Why did he make this decision? Because Affleck gives him whiskey and a horse tranquilizer and convinces him that it's a good idea. That's what friends are for. Even stunt-casting can't provide a respite from the sloppy, feckless proceedings. Gene Simmons's cameo as a hostile lawyer lands flatter than a Kiss performance on "American Idol."
"Extract" is too timid to be black comedy, too inert to be slapstick, too unfocused and dull to be a takedown of the suburbs or of married life. It's not even a farce about assembly lines, which it easily could've been. The writing is crude but toothless. There's no climax, no setup and no payoff. In the hands of a suppler director, with another script and the same cast, the basic premise of "Extract" might have yielded a crass-but-clever comedy like "There's Something About Mary" or a trenchant satire like, well, "Office Space."
As it is, it's a major step back for all involved.
Extract (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use.