Thursday, September 3, 2009

Film review: 'Extract' forgettable but likeable workplace comedy

Jason Bateman and Mila Kunis in Extract.

By Hap Erstein

The final weekend before Labor Day is usually a movie dumping ground and this year’s is no exception.

Opening on Friday is All About Steve, an actively annoying vehicle for Sandra Bullock as a socially inept, crossword puzzle constructor know-it-all who becomes fixated on a cable news cameraman. Unless the rest of the year is a disaster, this one is assured a place on my 10 Worst list.

Then there is World’s Greatest Dad, which brings superlatives to mind, but “greatest” isn’t one of them. It stars the increasingly woeful Robin Williams as a schoolteacher whose son accidentally kills himself in the midst of an act of self-gratification. (Did I say that tastefully enough?)

The dad gets out the word that the boy committed suicide and he distributes an anguished diary that he ghost-writes. Like many Williams films, it goes from strained to maudlin by the final reel. (By midweek, the movie’s theatrical release was scrubbed and will now be available only on video-on-demand.)

That leaves Extract, an amiable though forgettable comedy from Mike Judge, who gave us the slacker pair of Beavis and Butthead and the satirical King of the Hill. More to the point, he wrote and directed the cult favorite feature film Office Space in 1999 and is back again with another workplace comedy.

While Office Space’s humor is seen from the viewpoint of the employees in the cubicle trenches, Extract is the tale of downward spiral of Joel Reynolds, owner of a flavor-extract manufacturing business, those little bottles of artificial root beer, cherry and vanilla.

Joel (played by the likeable Jason Bateman) is a decent enough guy, hard-working and fair-minded with his employees. In short, destined for a major fall. The root cause of his personal and professional woes is Joel’s sexual frustration, since he works too late to get some action from his indifferent wife (Kristen Wiig). The object of his sudden obsession is a new employee, a hottie named Cindy (Mila Kunis), who also happens to be a ruthless liar and thief.

Add to the mix a former co-worker of Joel’s, a pill-pushing bartender (Ben Affleck, almost unrecognizable in dark beard and long hair) who convinces him to hire a gigolo to try and seduce his wife. If the gigolo succeeds, then Joel will be justified in putting the moves on Cindy.

Meanwhile, an assembly line accident leaves a slow-witted redneck worker testicularly challenged. He is soon convinced by Cindy to hire a pitbull liability lawyer (Gene Simmons) to sue Joel’s company, which puts the brakes on an offer by General Mills to buy the extract mill.

Extract is a low-key farce, an improbable but marginally possible series of setbacks that should convince moviegoers they never want to run a business.

Bateman, who played the yuppie potential adopting father in Juno, is again a suburban Everyman, easy to identify with, flaws and all. Kunis (the sultry desk clerk in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) again steams up the screen -- or maybe it was just my glasses -- and newcomer Dustin Milligan amuses as the dunderhead hunk gigolo. Irrelevant to the main plot, but one more thorn in Joel’s side is his boring, overbearing neighbor (droning, motor-mouthed David Koechner).

Judge’s humor is awfully dry, particularly when compared to the in-your-face comedy of a Judd Apatow, but if you are stuck for a movie this weekend, Extract is the best of an underwhelming bunch.

EXTRACT. Studio: Miramax; Director: Mike Judge; Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons; Rated: R; Venues: Opens Friday, most commercial houses

No comments: