LOS ANGELES — Ten years ago, Mike Judge satirized the absurdities of the workplace experience from the perspective of put-upon employees with Office Space. It didn't do much when it came out but, as we all know by now, it became a cult favorite on cable and home video, to the point where it changed the way you looked at the common stapler.
Now, Judge is back to the daily grind with Extract, but this time the writer-director tells his wacky working tales from the boss' point of view: that of Jason Bateman's Joel Reynold, owner of a flavor extract factory. It's doubtful that this comedy will grab its audience in the same way, though. Judge's characters are so one-note and their misadventures so ridiculous that it's hard to get attached to them or care about how they turn out.
Pretty much everyone in Extract is stupid, unlikable, self-destructive, or all of the above — and so there are no real surprises. They include:
Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), a doofus who prides himself on being the company's fastest sorter but dreams of being promoted to floor manager;
Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sexy but sociopathic con artist who weasels her way into Joel's factory with a scheme to make money off a serious accident;
And Rory (T.J. Miller), a pierced-and-tatted goth rocker who's too busy handing out flyers for his latest show to do his job.
As the person responsible for overseeing all these idiots and incompetents, Bateman functions in his patented exasperated everyman mode, similar to his Michael Bluth character on Arrested Development, only without the smart, surreal dialogue. Joel is proud of the company he founded but finds himself unhappy at work and thinking about selling to General Mills. At the same time, his nonexistent sex life with his frosty wife Suzie (a thoroughly underused Kristen Wiig) at his Texas McMansion has him pondering adulterous thoughts about the flirty Cindy.
His best friend Dean (Ben Affleck), a suave bartender at a generic hotel sports grill, suggests that Joel hire a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to sleep with Suzie, thereby giving him license to cheat on her with Cindy. With his Kenny G haircut and canned mysticism, Dean is probably the most outlandish character of all. But he provides just the latest example of Affleck's ability to breeze into a movie in some flashy supporting part, steal the scenes he's in, and breeze back out again.
On the other end of the freak-show spectrum is Nathan (David Koechner), Joel's nerdy neighbor from across the street who keeps hounding him and Suzie about attending the annual Rotary Club banquet with him. (“It's just a real loose bunch,” he insists.) Over-the-top annoying as he is, Nathan feels more like a real person than pretty much everyone else in Extract. We all know someone like him: a guy who drags people into painfully boring conversations, hangs around too long, and can't take a hint to go away.
The scenes between Bateman and Koechner are unbelievably cringe-worthy but they also suggest the kind of movie Extract might have been if Judge had dared to throw in a little more flavor throughout, and not just relied on deadpan inanity.