The first scene of Michael Judge’s new comedy Extract features Mila Kunis’s character Cindy in a music store, buying an expensive electric guitar as a gift for her father. However, the moment when the two fawning clerks’ backs are turned, she casually picks up the unpaid-for guitar off the counter and walks out the door. Judge manages a similar smooth con on the audience with the film. While it starts off with the promise of a workplace-set comedy similar to his debut live action feature Office Space, but manages to snatch that away from us when we are not looking. Instead of leaving us with an empty counter where an electric guitar used to be and the disquieting feeling of being ripped-off, Judge leaves us with the story of a man experiencing a near perfect storm of crises that manages to elicit a few chuckles in the process.
After having the abusive treatment he received over the bare perfunctory release accorded to his last film, Idiocracy, by its studio, it would be understandable that Judge would want to retreat to the setting of the cult favorite Office Space. But Extract isn’t another story of drudgeries of working in a cubical farm. In fact, the only real similarity that the two films share are that they both center on average guys who have found that the responsibilities of adulthood have drained the enjoyment out of his life.
Joel (Jason Bateman) seems to have achieved a certain amount of success in his life, but he is unable to enjoy it. His factory manufacturing various cooking flavor extracts is being eyed for a buy-out by General Mills, but all he can concentrate on is the petty bickering that goes on amongst the workers on the company’s factory floor and the fact that his and his wife’s sex life has been DOA for several months now. A freak accident that leaves one of his workers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) minus a testicle attracts conwoman Cindy (Kunis) to town, who hopes to convince him to sue the company for millions of dollars which she will then steal. Worming her way into the company as a line worker, Cindy manages to attract the attention of Joel, who would like to pursue her, but only if he can do so without feeling guilty about cheating on his wife. To that end, Joel and his bartender friend Dean (a bearded Ben Affleck), hire dimwitted gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan) to seduce Joel’s wife. Things spiral out of control for all parties involved from there.
As you can see, Extract’s biggest problem is its overabundance of plot. The film practically groans under the weight of the amount of maneuvering required to get many of the characters to a point where things really start to get going. But while the laughs are more plentiful in the second half, the various storylines meander and lose focus. (Ironic, as Office Space starts strongly with the comedy before getting bogged down by its plot in its second half.) Kunis’s conwoman character remains off screen for long stretches, which is distressing as she is a main plot motivator. Another character who suffers from the diffuse second half is J. K. Simmons’ Brian. As Joel’s second-in-command at the factory, he starts off with a strong presence in a number of scenes, but his role evaporates as the film goes on until he simply becomes a device that shows up to tell Joel it is time to move on to the next scene.
Still, that’s not as bad as the unnamed factory floor employee who steps forward and takes an active role in the workers’ storyline. Unlike many of the other of Joel’s employees who are introduced at the beginning of the film and whom we follow for its runtime, this character suddenly appears at the end for a sole plot purpose. It is some rather heavy-handed scripting, and since the part is played by Judge himself in a fright wig, fake moustache and beer gut, it just makes the involvement of his authorial hand all the more obvious.
On the plus side for Extract are many of the film’s performances. Always dependable character actor David Koechner pops up through the film as Joel’s annoying next door neighbor with the unerring ability to want to stop Joel for a chat at precisely the wrong time. While the character does echo Gary Cole’s passive-aggressive character from Office Space, Koechner plays the character much differently and Judge gives the character one of the film’s biggest laughs towards the end. As himbo Brad, Milligan’s clueless stare evokes laughs in every scene he is in, oblivious to the exasperation he is causing in all who attempt conversation with him. Affleck has not had much of a chance to stretch his comedy muscles in anything outside of his collaborations with writer/director Kevin Smith, so his performance as a spacey bartender who professes to take Xanax for colds comes off as fun and fresh.