EXTRACT – 8/27/2014

2009 – Written and directed by Mike Judge (!!!) and meant to be a “companion piece” to Office Space (!!!!!?!?!???!?!?!?!??!!!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!?!)

Here’s an important life lesson you can learn thanks to Extract: very few people in show business are naturally funny. You can take an actor who was funny in one thing, put him in another thing, and watch him fail miserably. For instance: the quirky, off-beat cast of The Whole 9 Yards, who became some of the least funny people on Earth in The Whole 10 Yards. Remember when Dana Carvey had that one stand-up special that people would quote endlessly? Dana Carvey, meet The Master of Disguise. The cast of Seinfeld, Jennifer Aniston… the list goes on.

To bring the discussion around to the terribly-plotted, atrociously-paced, sloppily-constructed Extract, consider Jason Bateman. Very funny in Arrested Development. Here… somewhat less so, despite the fact that he’s trying to play the exact same character. But it’s not entirely his fault. The plot of Extract is so Byzantine, so full of pointless characters, and so lacking in any kind of comedic or dramatic momentum, that it almost defies my ability to describe it. But I’ll try.

Joel (Bateman) is the owner of an extract bottling company. He’s in a bit of a funk because his employees are a pain and his wife Suzie (Kristin Wiig) never wants to have sex.

Super original comedy innovation #1: Wives never want to have sex with their husbands. HAH! That’s such a refreshing new twist on marriage!

We get to meet some of the delightfully unique and charming employees at the extract plant, like The Two Racist Ladies, Hector the Hispanic Guy, the Dumb Guy Who’s In A Band, Stupid Hick Step (“Step” is his real name), and Spider-Man‘s J. Johan Jameson Guy. It turns out that General Mills might want to buy the company, which Joel would love since he’s sick of being the boss. On his way home from work, Joel runs into his annoying neighbor Nathan (the guy from Anchorman who yells “WHAMMY!”). Nathan wants him to go to some kind of dinner.

Super original comedy innovation #2: The annoying neighbor. This character just slays me! He is a socially clueless boob who never stops talking! DOUBLE HAH!

Back at the factory, the Two Racist Ladies stop working because they suspect Hector the Hispanic Guy is being lazy. Through a Rube Goldberg-esque series of mishaps, there’s a big accident and Step ends up getting his testicles blown off.

Super original comedy innovation #3: Groin shots. I guess it still would have been hilarious if Step had lost, I don’t know, a kidney in a workplace accident, but he gets hit IN THE BALLS. That’s what makes it so funny! If you like ball jokes, and jokes about not having balls, you’ve come to the right place.

Keep in mind, we’re now almost a half hour in and this impending train-wreck of a movie is only starting to pick up steam. Evil hot girl con artist Cindy (girl who has that lesbian scene with Natalie Portman in Black Swan) reads about Step’s accident and plans to seduce him with her purportedly irresistible hotness, convince him to sue Joel’s company, and get rich off the proceeds of the lawsuit. So she gets a job at the factory and pretends to hit on Joel in order to get Step’s contact information. Joel, thinking she was flirting, ponders having an affair with her.

But wait, there’s more hilarity still to come! Ben Affleck is in this movie! He plays Dean, Joel’s ne’er-do-well buddy. Thinking that Joel should relieve his sexual frustration with the seemingly willing Cindy, he suggests they hire a gigolo to tempt Suzie to have an affair of her own so Joel won’t feel guilty about his own potential affair afterward.

What?

Super original comedy innovation #4: The hero’s lazy stoner best friend who comes up with all manner of zany schemes. What a delightfully original idea! This character is completely different from the hero’s lazy stoner best friend in Office Space, because here he’s portrayed by noted thespian Ben Affleck.

Now things are really going to get popping. Joel agrees to Dean’s scheme because he accidentally took some drugs (drugs are always funny – just ask Philip Seymour Hoffman!). So goofball gigolo Brad sleeps with Suzie. Joel is furious, but doesn’t have the guts to approach Cindy. Cindy, meanwhile, has been stealing things from people at the factory and they all blame Hector the Hispanic. I guess that’s funny… or ironic?… or something.  The lawyer Step and Cindy hire is played by Gene Simmons of Kiss fame, for absolutely no reason at all. So now General Mills doesn’t want to buy Joel’s company and he may be bankrupted.

That’s basically the plot of the film. By the time all this gets set up, it’s half over. If it was some kind of fast-paced comedy of errors, that would be acceptable. But Extract is also one of the most sluggish, lifeless, dull comedies you’ve ever seen. Being generous, I’m going to say that Mike Judge needed to make about a half-dozen major re-writes. Then he’d need to consider putting some jokes in.

By “jokes,” I mean better than having Suzie finally yell at annoying neighbor Nathan, and having him die from shock.

Super original comedy innovation #5:  The WACKY death sequence. Did you know that death can be hilarious as well as tragic? I sure didn’t – until I watched Extract!

Not only is this scene filmed in a fashion that is shockingly similar to when the therapist dies in Office Space, but it just isn’t funny. There wasn’t any better or more amusing scenario than to have the guy randomly drop dead? It’s lazy. It’s almost hard to comprehend how a movie can be so lacking in any kind of narrative structure. Characters and sub-plots crop up endlessly and drift off meaninglessly. There’s no rising or falling action. Half the time I couldn’t even tell what was supposed to be funny.

One positive takeaway? I liked Ben Affleck. I think that’s the first time I ever said that.

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