‘Extract’ succeeds as a minor comedy

By David Orlikoff

Writer, director and animator Mike Judge broke into the scene in 1993 with the iconic MTV series “Beavis and Butt-Head.” His second major project, “King of the Hill,” began in 1997 and saw its 13th and final season this year. But no matter how prolific his animated work, he didn’t become a household name until after his live-action feature debut, Office Space in 1999.

His latest film, Extract, tells the tale of Joel (played by Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development” and “Teen Wolf Too,” a nerd for food flavorings who owns his own small business producing various extracts. Despite marriage problems, Joel seems to be in a good position when General Mills wants to buy his company—a move that would net millions and allow him to leave the insanity of the factory behind. But when forces converge to threaten his company with a bankruptcy lawsuit, Joel faces losing more than his retirement package.

Categorically, this film is a workplace comedy akin to Judge’s highly successful Office Space. The actual plot, however, is almost the exact inverse.

In Office Space, the main character is transformed through hypnosis and in his new state highlights the absurdity of the status quo within corporate America. This is not so with Joel in Extract, who remains stagnant throughout the film as his incompetent employees run amok. Everything is external in Joel’s world, pushing and creeping its way into his peace of mind. If it weren’t for a workplace accident or “some criminal drifter,” there wouldn’t be a film.

Part of the appeal of Office Space was the message of empowerment that went along with change on an individual level. It taught us that even a lowly worker bee can shake things up in a big way. That message might be ill-fated for a repeat in , especially since Joel is the boss, but this film is not without meaning.

Joel, in his managerial role, serves as an allegory for the modern man, both physically and metaphorically. Some of the problems he faces are as ludicrous as they are meaningless, but others, such as those he faces with his wife Suzie (played by Kristen Wiig of “Saturday Night Live”) bear relevance. The less concrete lesson here is that we are all our own bosses struggling against lazy employees and profiteers within the Reynolds’s Extract Factory of our minds.

As with Judge’s previous work, the funniest bits come from the expert supporting cast. Gene Simmons plays a slimy lawyer named Joe “El Tigre” Adler, who is out to get Joel by the balls. David Koechner plays Nathan, the annoying and overbearing neighbor who can’t take a hint. Either of them would be at home in a Mike Judge animation, which is as much a curse as a blessing.

Joel is the only real character in the film, a straight-laced man with little personality himself, a product of the one-dimensional goons around him. And funny though they may be, no one can hold a candle to Milton and his stapler.

Overall, the film is only somewhat funny. It is, at its heart, a moral tale, falling somewhere between fantasy and allegory for the modern man—and for Judge himself who identifies with characters like Joel and Hank Hill.

Those with high expectations will be disappointed, but the film is not without merit. It is, above all else, pleasant.

chronicle@colum.edu

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.