I like the films of Mike Judge. Like John Waters, I think he made his bones and I give him a bit of a critical pass, that few reviewers are likely to do with his latest film Extract. What can I say? I loved Idiocracy, shamelessly elitist- even decried as eugenicist- because while it may not be scientifically sound, it was still hilarious and one of the best satires of modern America yet filmed.
Extract is more obviously a return to the “success” of Office Space, which only became a beloved classic on video and cable. This time we see things from the top, instead of among the worker drones. He’s just as acerbic mocking them as he was at Lumberg. It’s not quite as inspired as his previous hit, but that was when Dilbert was all the rage and pasty white nerds needed an outlet; this one takes a look at Joel, an entrepreneur who came up with a better way to make flavor extracts, and built a successful privately owned company from it. And we all know the sufferings of the small businessman, squeezed by the government and big competitors. Joel has bigger problems- an employee minus a testicle, harpies on the line who shut things down at every perceived slight from their co-workers, a manager (J.K. Simmons) who won’t bother to learn people’s name, a wife who locks up her goodies in the Sweatpants Locker when he’s late coming home, and perhaps worst of all, a sexy scammer who sees money in this confluence of misfortunes.
It’s a funny jumble of scenes- Joel’s best buddy (Ben Affleck, in a jerky role that suits him well) runs a sports bar and likes to solve everything with drugs; Gene Simmons plays an ambulance chaser who genuinely wants to slam Joel’s balls in a door; a gigolo, who Joel hires to seduce his wife, so he won’t feel guilty if he cheats on her, is so stupid that posts should picket the film because it says he’s as dumb as one. The structure should feel familiar; his previous films are similar. He’s good at jokes and people, but his plots aren’t exactly clever or new. But coming here for a clever plot is like seeing a Coen Brothers movie for “some good dumb fun.” What were you thinking?
Oh, Judge still stumbles at the Act 2, part 2 conflict in his scripts, and depends on characters not talking to each other to keep it going. There are things that could be solved by Joel and Suzie sitting down and talking to each other; is Willie the pot-head Cindy’s boyfriend, or brother? Why doesn’t Joel tell Step about Willie? Jason Bateman and Judge’s endearing sense of humor managed to make me look past the plot holes. I was delighted to be entertained with a minimum of vulgarity. Sure, they curse. Someone’s nickname is Johnny Horsecock; the damage done to a man’s testicles is the very linchpin of the plot. But it’s not as revolting as we’ve come to expect from humor. And I appreciated that. Just as John Waters can never top Pink Flamingos in disgusting acts committed in the name of cinema, Mike Judge may never make us laugh as hard as we did at Office Space, or the first time we saw Beavis and Butthead narrate a music video. But I feel cozy watching his films, like I’m at a buddy’s place. Having a beer. Yup.
3.5 out of 5 lost testicles