In Theaters: Extract
When it comes to contemplating the misfortune of Mike Judge's Extract, part of me wants to just refer you over to Beavis and Butthead's own review and be done with it. Insight-challenged as they are, the revival of Judge's most famous leading men crystallizes his complacency in ways that make seeing his new film almost irrelevant: It's regressive and unfunny, yet it winks with a sort of sleepy, Last-of-the-Bozos zeal that defies you to really dislike it. But can they -- or Extract, for that matter -- make you care in the end?
Anyone who can quote from Judge's work-is-hell masterpiece Office Space (read: everyone) will already likely presume they have a vested interest in Extract. After all, his doomed Idiocracy was less a follow-up than a Cautionary Hollywood Tale™ by the time Fox was done with it, buffing Judge's new one with a sort of comeback gloss. They'd also likely know that Judge the director isn't much for gloss, making the story of flavor-extract magnate Joel Reynolds (a boyish, miscast Jason Bateman), his factory of fools, and his sexually frustrated home life dependent almost entirely on the verbal zing from each front.
For the first three minutes, anyway, he pulls it off with an intro that could probably travel the international festival circuit as a short film -- a brilliant little set-up featuring attractive gift-shopper Cindy (Mila Kunis) and two guitar-shop salesmen cheated out of both their hearts and a vintage Gibson. But she's not a character so much as a plot device, cast aside until we get to know Joel and his halfwit-dude inner circle: officious right-hand man Brian (J.K. Simmons), vice-pushing bartender-confidante Dean (Ben Affleck), and the hapless wanna-be floor-supervisor Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), whose freakish, testicle-ruining workplace accident threatens to bring down Joel's whole operation.
Especially if/when Kunis can sneak in with Cindy's sweetheart brand of fraud, which endures throughout as one of Extract's few consistent (and consistently believable) qualities. She also yields the most fruit by extension, opening a window for that apprehensive physical comedy Bateman does so well (particularly as undersexed Joel) and necessitating a dynamite Gene Simmons cameo. Affleck struggles to keep up, reduced to horse-tranquilizer gags, clumsy advice and a nexus between Joel and the gigolo he hires to attempt to sleep with his frigid wife (Kristen Wiig).
Yeah, it's like that. But Judge is not a filmmaker without ideas as much as he's just not really a filmmaker. His imagination perceives absurdity -- the garrulous neighbors, the sociopath pot dens, the gloves-and-hairnet factory couture -- with an acuity his eye has never matched, and with a conceptual might he may have exhausted with Office Space. (Idiocracy was more like a line drive fouled into the stands.) That would begin to explain the longevity of King of the Hill and the influence of Beavis and Butthead, the animated Judge properties whose absurdities work in a context beyond irony (not to mention uninspired framing, lighting and set design). They aren't really about men vs. the world. They're about the perfect worlds that imperfect men subconsciously spend years creating for themselves.
Maybe Judge considers the movies his own perfect world, the canny endgame of a schemer much like the hero of Office Space. If so, the least he could do is freshen the air when he invites a few million moviegoers inside for a visit. And if not, then it's time to either get serious (or at least seriously funny) or try a professional transition of his own. After all of this, he must have a few reliable H.R. connections who can help with that.