1999's "Office Space" quietly came and went in theaters, but has gained a rabid cult following in the years since due to its part-satirical, part-painfully authentic look at impersonal white-collar employment. It is difficult to imagine writer-director Mike Judge winning over quite as many fans with his latest comedy, "Extract," a film that keeps one's attention even as it leaves the viewer scratching his or her head. The plot strands wander all over the place with minimal focus, adding up to one overwhelming question: what was the point?
Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) is an extract plant owner looking to sell the company and retire comfortably at an early age. Sex-starved at homeonce wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) throws on her sweatpants and ties them up, it's a no-go for the eveningJoel becomes smitten with beautiful new temp worker Cindy (Mila Kunis) after she shows almost as much interest in him as she does in extracts. Afraid that he will feel guilty if he acts upon his impulses, Joel and bartending best friend Dean (Ben Affleck) devise a plan that they hope will get him over his first-time philandering jitters: hire hunky, dimwitted landscaper-turned-gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan) to pose as the new pool cleaner and seduce Suzie. So far, so good, except (1) Joel doesn't expect Brad will continue the affair with his wife behind his back, and (2) Joel does not yet know Cindy is a common thief in cahoots with injured, out-of-work employee Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Reynold's Extract for a million dollars.
Dryly humorous but far from hilarious, "Extract" amuses most when it is slyly hitting easily relatable notes. As was the case in "Office Space," this is where Mike Judge excels. Factory line worker Mary (Beth Grant) spends her days prattling on about how much work she does even as she happily refuses to do her job whenever she sees anyone else slacking off. Joel can never make it into his garage without clueless, insufferable next-door neighbor Nathan (David Koechner) stopping him to chat about the most asinine things. Suzie turns down sex with Joel, complaining that it's the middle of the week and she's too tired, only to discover, much to her horror, that it is only Monday and she is missing "Dancing with the Stars." Watching "Extract," it is never readily apparent where things are going, but it is in the quirky, truthful details that it keeps one engaged.
Thematically, the picture is as confused as most of its characters. Were the film about Joel having a mid-life crisis, that would be one thing, but he never actually seems to be particularly unhappy. He's well-off with a great job, he loves his wife despite their lack of recent sexual intimacy, and he seems to be well-liked by all. Why he would hire someone to sleep with his wife simply to have sex with a girl he knows nothing about is mystifying. Worse yet, Joel never actually goes out with Cindy at all, rendering his hiring of a himbo for Suzie useless and all the more cruel. Meanwhile, Cindy's ulterior motivesshe's a charming crook who wraps everyone around her pinkie fingernever really lead to anything and are so simplistically ironed-out by the third act that she almost comes off as an afterthought. In many ways, Cindy is the catalyst that turns everyone else's life upside-down, but she remains an enigma throughout.
The cast is fine, led by a charismatic Jason Bateman (2008's "Hancock
") whose occasionally despicable actions as Joel Reynold are offset by his natural likeability factor. Kristen Wiig (2009's "Adventureland
") has some tasty moments as wife Suzie, effortlessly funny while also bringing levity to the role of a woman who isn't sure how to fix her marriage, but knows that she wants to try. As Cindy, Mila Kunis (2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall
") flashes her winning smile and does little else until her game-changing final scene. Ben Affleck (2009's "State of Play
") is scruffy and a tad uninspired as Joel's pro-drugs pal Dean, not given much to do but listen to his friend's problems. Stealing scenes, Dustin Milligan (2007's "The Messengers
") is scarily believable as Brad, as dumb as a box of rocks; Beth Grant (2008's "Henry Poole Is Here
") delivers her signature down-home finesse to busybody worker Mary; and David Koechner (2009's "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
") is terrific as obnoxious neighbor Nathan, seemingly incapable of understanding the meaning of the word, "No."
"Extract" is a middle-of-the-road lark, breezy enough as it rolls along but significantly lacking when the dust clears and a narrative viewpoint has yet to be deciphered. Whatever writer-director Mike Judge wished to say with this film is left undistinguished. The characters are petty and self-destructive, the subplots fizzle out or are solved too easily, and it all boils down to a hopeful ending that is overly conventional (save for it being set in a cemetery) and not truly earned by the couple involved. "Extract" seems tailor-made for its release datethat of the Labor Day weekend doldrums.