In some sideways alternate universe I'd like to believe Mike Judge is a Judd Apatow or an Edgar Wright, which is to say a modern comedy director whose upcoming projects are actually followed with any degree of anticipation. Of his two previous live-action films, "Office Space," for its flaws, has a special place in my heart and I appreciated "Idiocracy" more than most. So along comes "Extract," a subtle, straightforward comedy about the little things in life. You know, inane neighbors, workplace politics, sexual frustration, male gigolos, and horse tranquilizers.
Okay, maybe it's not all that subtle, but "Extract" is less boisterous than Judge's previous films while retaining their biting, sardonic banter and oddly believable caricatures. Probably the reason the director's work hasn't caught on with mainstream audiences is that their stories and characters are always paramount to their gag writing, which in turn gives them a comparatively low joke-per-minute ratio.
The plot itself isn't as interesting or ambitious as "Office Space" or "Idiocracy" respectively, but the terrific casting and low-key performances keep "Extract" charming even when its story falters. Particular scenes and sequences sag around the middle of the film, and the plot lines never dovetail as well as they probably could, but the narrative, while simple, is strong enough to shield the film from ever becoming an outright bore.
Judge's respect for his storytelling transcends the temptation to pack the film with gimmicky gags or disposable pop culture references, which is refreshing in comparison to the blisteringly unfunny and now highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, sequel green-lit, "The Hangover." Jason Bateman of "Arrested Development" fame returns as another corporate mogul, though of considerably less affluence than Michael Bluth, and the role, unsurprisingly, fits like a glove. It's not exactly a retread for the actor either, who exhibits an empathetic vulnerability that hasn't existed in his previous roles.
"Extract's" Joel Reynolds is an interesting antithesis to Michael Bluth in that he offers a completely opposite take on the pragmatic modern businessman. Michael is a man who assumes his hardest work has yet to come, where Joel considers his dues paid, and at the outset of the film, is looking to sell his plant and embrace an early retirement. Joel is indicative of Mike Judge's greater analysis of the American working class, and reminiscent also, though not in a derivative sense, of Peter, the protagonist of "Office Space," in that both characters long for a life outside of the workplace. Michael Bluth wants to work; Mike Judge's characters have to work.
The rest of the cast, including Mila Kunis as a con-woman catalyst, J.K. Simmons as name- challenged manager, and Ben Affleck as a worldly hipster doofus, all perform admirably. "Extract" is its cast, and there isn't a bad performance in the bunch.
Judge's latest is a film that really needs to be taken on its own merits. It's a warm, entertaining if unambitious film that may not be as funny as some expect, but is never unfunny, if that makes any sense.
If you're not laughing, it's because the film isn't trying to make you laugh, which is almost a foreign concept in modern comedy and sure to leave some audiences cold. That being said, there isn't much reason to rush out and see the film either. If you're interested in something (somewhat) more mature when "The Hangover 2" hits theaters, "Extract" will make a pretty good rental.