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09.02.09

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Phaedra

Sam Urdank/Miramax Films
TAKING A BREAK: Boss Jason Bateman has his eye on a hot new employee (Mila Kunis) in 'Extract.'

Judging Jason

Mike Judge sets up a small-business man for a big fall in 'Extract'

By Richard von Busack


THE TITLE of Extract is as much a verb as it is a noun. Mike Judge's new film is a comedy of cuckoldry and castration. Self-made businessman Joel (Jason Bateman) runs a small flavor-extract company and deals with the headaches that go along with it. His wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), is on a long-term and inexplicable sex strike. At Joel's workplace, there's nothing but chaos; the employees' prejudices make for squabbles. Enter a hot little grifter named Cindy (Mila Kunis), who catches Joel's eye. Hoping for a fair shot at her, Joel takes the worthless advice of his old pal and bartender Dean (Ben Affleck). Joel hires an imbecilic pool cleaner named Brad to seduce Suzie so that he, Joel, will be an outraged husband entitled to an affair. Unfortunately, the no-good Cindy is harder to get than she looks; she has a master plan to glom onto the settlement of one of Joel's workers, maimed in an industrial accident on Joel's assembly line.Some good laughs and quotable bits here, particularly a running joke about Suzie's sweatpants, fastened with the security of a chastity belt. There's a very good pot-smoking scene in which the local dealer gets addressed as "a shaman," possibly because he has a 5-foot bong. But just as Judge's last two comedies, Office Space and Idiocracy, made it as cult items, it seems Extract will have its best days on home screens. The visuals aren't thought out much—the TV-size stagings are almost as flat as painted backgrounds. On the one hand, this is Judge's way of honoring the dull surroundings most workers live with. Office Space was at its best depicting the crushing monotony of the light industrial park; it's the best movie about Sunnyvale not shot in Sunnyvale. At this point, though, does Judge even notice the backgrounds in his films? It's as if he thinks that this is the way normal things look, and he doesn't have to make any gags off of them.

Another matter is the relentless centrism of Judge's humor. On King of the Hill, each episode is about arch-conservatives and wacky liberals trying to push good old Hank Hill out of his comfort zone. The Simpsons gets deeper because Homer does as he's done to: Springfield is a real entity, a virtual city, because the rot goes from the bottom to the top, from Cletus the hillbilly to Montgomery Burns. By contrast, Judge's Arlen, Texas, is a place that would be orderly if extremists didn't keep rattling it. And thus Extract, with its shirking assembly lines with workers too small-minded and addled to agitate for their rights. It's the Capra view of a mob of workers needing a wiser boss. Extract is a funny movie; Bateman's perplexity recalls the dissatisfied male businessmen of late-'50s and early-'60s comedies. Wiig is a fine comedian, very subtle and desirable; the part of Suzie has life of its own. But there's a patronizing streak in this film that's going to be left as an aftertaste after the froth of it dissolves.


Movie Times EXTRACT (R; 91 min.), directed and written by Mike Judge, photographed by Tim Suhrstedt and starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis and Kristen Wiig, opens Sept. 4.

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