When it first came out in 1999, Mike Judge’s “Office Space” was a bomb, but it’s since become a cult classic on DVD and cable (it’s a staple on Comedy Central). Maybe his workplace follow-up “Extract” will follow the same pattern. It’s likely to get the “bomb” part right: it’s an anemic, meandering ensemble comedy that just sputters along lamely before ending, apparently of sheer exhaustion. And though it might find a second life in other venues as “Space” eventually did, it’s unlikely to stir up much enthusiasm in theatres.
The spotlight this time isn’t on the harried workers being abused by a nitwit boss, but on a good-natured if flawed boss frustrated both at the job and at home. Joel (Jason Bateman) is the founder-owner of a small company that makes bottled extract. He’s a pleasant fellow, but is in the doldrums because quite frankly his workforce consists of a bunch of dim-bulbs, from goofy rocker wannabe Rory (T.J. Miller) and congenital griper Mary (Beth Grant), who sees everyone else’s flaws but her own, to recent hire Hector (Javier Gutierrez), the particular brunt of Mary’s complaints though he seems to be one of the few workers actually doing his job, and redneck Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.), who thinks he should be promoted to floor manager. With this bunch it’s no wonder that Joel shares with general manager Brian (J.K. Simmons) a longing to sell the place.
And things at home aren’t appreciably better. Joel’s stuck with a pest of a neighbor named Nathan (David Koechner) who buttonholes him at every sighting and just won’t shut up. That’s especially irksome because Joel’s anxious to get home as soon as possible to his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who’s claimed to be too tired for sex for months—something he hopes to change by arriving before she’s changed into her sweatpants, a sign of her unavailability. Her attitude is one reason that Joel fantasizes about doing it with new temp Cindy (Mila Kunis).
What Joel doesn’t know is that Cindy’s a con-woman who’s taken the job merely to get the address of Step, who’s just had a work accident that’s cost him an important part of the male anatomy. She intends to seduce him, persuade him to file suit against Joel, and run off with the settlement. But not knowing that, the unhappy Joel allows himself to be convinced by his low-life bartender pal Dean (Ben Affleck) not only to take some drugs—which turns out really badly when the dealer turns out to be somebody he shouldn’t meet—but to hire Brad (Dustin Milligan), a handsome dullard, as his new “pool boy.” Brad’s job, though, won’t be to clean any pool but to seduce Suzie. Dean argues that if she’s already been unfaithful to him, Joel won’t feel guilty about cheating on her with Cindy. Meanwhile at Cindy’s urging Step actually hire hard-charging “populist” lawyer Joe Adler (Gene Simmons) to take his case.
Of course, nothing turns out as anybody plans, and some of the convolutions that Judge gives the plot are clever—often raunchy and scatterbrained, of course, but potentially very funny. Unfortunately, as director he brings such a crushingly laid-back attitude to the scenes that the movie practically expires as you’re watching it; like Kevin Smith, he just hasn’t become familiar enough with the simple craft of where to put the camera and how to choreograph a sequence to give life to the jokes and the gags. (Tim Suhrstedt’s bland cinematography, Julia Wong’s lapidary editing and George S. Clinton’s over-aggressive score don’t help.) The actors seem stranded, hardly knowing when or how to move and delivering their lines in a deadpan style that’s more dead than pan. There are exceptions: Affleck, of all people, is loose but limber, and J.K. Simmons channels his “Spider-Man” persona to bellow his lines. (So does the other Simmons, Gene, but he never loses the stiffness of the non-actor.) But Bateman is so recessive and timid that he practically disappears, Collins (and many of the supporting cast) overdo the yokel routine, Koechner is nearly as boring to us as his character is to Joel (that joke is run into the ground), Kunis isn’t given much opportunity to express her natural charm, and Wiig comes off like an even more introverted version of Jennifer Aniston.
In fact, there are only two elements of “Extract” that really work. One is Milligan’s turn as the goofball gigolo Brad, which has all the hallmarks of a great sketch routine. And the other is the appearance of the unbilled, heavily made-up Judge himself as one of Joel’s workers in a scene toward the close, when the employees are debating how to react to the news that the factory might be sold. For a moment the dour, seemingly intelligent attitude of Hank Hill is expressed, and the scene has a quiet humor that’s very effective.
It makes you remember how much funnier “King of the Hill” was, even in the propane-powered workplace scenes. And it’s still available in reruns.