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Finally, we get a funny comedy in 'Extract'

POSTED: September 2, 2009 10:00 p.m.
/Miramax Film Corp.

Ben Affleck stars as Dean, left, and Jason Bateman is Joel in writer/director Mike Judge's new film, "Extract."

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Writer/director Mike Judge captures the hilarity of the workplace as well as anyone. His “Office Space” (an American classic, in my opinion) and “Idiocracy” both flopped in their theatrical runs but have become DVD hits.

“Extract” will hopefully be the first Judge film that actually earns what it’s worth in theaters, because this charming, unpretentious comedy is ideal entertainment for the Labor Day weekend.

Joel (Jason Bateman) owns an extract manufacturing business, has a lovely wife named Suzie (Kristen Wiig) and lives in a beautiful home in an exclusive neighborhood. All this surface success doesn’t make him happy, though, and when we see what his life is like it’s easy to understand why he feels unfulfilled.

The extract business is every bit as boring as it sounds. Joel wants badly to sell the business and get out. He has become disconnected from his wife, to the point that they are mostly just housemates. And Nathan (David Koechner), a neighbor who stalks Joel as he comes home and traps him in endless, mind-numbingly boring conversations, has ruined the sanctity of that exclusive neighborhood.

Really, Joel is just an average guy who is worn weary by the daily grind and wants more, uh, intimacy with his wife.

Things begin to shake up when young, seductive Cindy (Mila Kunis) begins working at Joel’s factory and flirts with him. One night Joel’s bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) plies him with liquor and prescription meds, and following logic that only makes sense in a bar, they hatch a plan to make Joel’s life more exciting.

Joel can’t cheat on his wife unless he knows that she is already cheating on him. Dean knows a gigolo named Brad (Dustin Milligan), so they hire Brad to try to seduce Suzie. If Suzie takes the bait, Joel can go after Cindy. Little does Joel know that Cindy is actually a seasoned, manipulative con who can lure men into any trap she devises.

From that point on, the movie becomes a clever farce. Each time we think we know where it’s going it surprises us, which is truly refreshing after a season of summer movies that couldn’t have been any more predictable.

The trailers give the false impression that this is a love triangle or that the movie somehow focuses on the romance between Joel and Cindy. Kunis turns in a funny, confident performance, but her role is actually quite small.

We could say similar things, in fact, of all the supporting roles. Wiig plays it mostly straight, which is a first for her. Koechner steals each of his few scenes as the boorish neighbor who can’t take a hint. Affleck looks more comfortable than he ever has, and while his character is one of the least original, he mines it for some big laughs.

But this is Bateman’s movie from start to finish. He plays the character with the same understated but dead-on timing he showed in “Arrested Development” and “Juno.” I suppose we could criticize him for having only one character, but he is as funny and endearing as ever here.

“Extract” does slip into cliché occasionally. For instance, we see straight guy Joel get high for the first time. It’s mildly funny watching Bateman take a monster bong hit and become paranoid, but we’ve covered this tired ground many, many times.

Such tired turns are rare, thankfully, and while this isn’t quite as funny as “Office Space,” it’s actually a better story.

We don’t get many movies that find the comedy of the workplace without being too cynical or talking down to their working class audience.

I can’t say “Extract” doesn’t have its cynical side, but it’s a cynicism we already share. The economy has made going to work both more difficult and more important. “Extract” lets us laugh about working at a time when we desperately need to do so.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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