The movies of the American workplace would be worse off without the skeptical empathy of writer-director Mike Judge. As his cult favorite Office Space revealed what life was like among white-collar worker bees in the ’90s, so is Judge’s new film, Extract, about being the boss of blue-collar rubes today. It’s not a pretty picture.
Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) owns a midsized flavor-extract factory in a midsized American city. He came by it honestly, through enough hard work that his marriage has suffered. If Joel’s not home by 8pm on any given weeknight—and he’s usually not—he’ll have missed the sweatpants deadline. That’s the moment in the evening when Joel’s wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who works as a designer of coupons, slips into sweatpants and cinches up the waistband so tight that she might as well be affixing a chastity belt.
Now, because the people who work for him tend to be idiots in need of frequent assistance, and his chatty neighbor (David Koechner) tends to ambush him with inane conversation in the cul-de-sac, Joel never seems to make that sweatpants deadline. And so, as he so woefully puts it, “We’re turning into one of those brother-sister couples.” What’s a sexually frustrated entrepreneur to do?
What Joel does is let his wastrel hotel-bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) dope him up with a horse tranquilizer and talk him into hiring a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife. If Suzie takes the bait, they figure, that’ll give Joel license to pursue Cindy (Mila Kunis), his hot new factory temp, with impunity.
Meanwhile, Joel’s second in command, Brian (J.K. Simmons), who can’t even be bothered to remember his coworkers’ names, abets his other big, possibly unwise plan: Sell off the company to General Mills and retire early. That plan has its share of obstacles too—most notably, the fact that Cindy is a gold-digging con artist who encourages the hapless victim (Clifton Collins, Jr.) of an entirely preventable assembly line accident to retain an aggressively sleazy personal injury lawyer, played by Gene Simmons of KISS.
These facts may incline you to suppose that Joel isn’t much of a genius himself. But in the live-action Mike Judge movie continuum—a drolly drab universe of regular, decent-enough dudes getting so bogged down by lives of quiet desperation that they go numb and act dumb—he’s about average.
Extract is about average, too—less timely and exact than Office Space, but less creaky and wild-swinging than Judge’s Idiocracy. As a sketch-like trifle built from well observed details, it pretty much splits the temperamental difference between his cartoons: subtler than “Beavis and Butt-Head,” but broader than “King of the Hill.” This isn’t to say that Extract is too generic to be entertaining. But it is so easygoing that it sometimes can seem aloof.