Ten years after turning out the immortal workplace comedy “Office Space,” writer-director Mike Judge has revisited the genre and handed in an exercise in pointlessness whose dailies early on should’ve resulted in Miramax handing him a pink slip. Easily the most disappointing movie of the summer, “Extract” is more significantly the biggest letdown of its esteemed creator’s career.
After all, we’re talking the guy who masterminded not just the above mentioned live-action classic but 2006’s “Idiocracy” and such animation milestones as “Beavis and Butt-Head” and the recently abdicated “King of the Hill.” Shaquille O’Neal can’t not be large. Jack Nicholson can’t not be cool. Before seeing his latest film, I would never have imagined Mike Judge could not be funny.
He proves me wrong for an uninspired, feebleminded 90 minutes with the story of Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman), the owner of a factory which manages to mass produce food flavorings despite the fact that most of its employees are one dimensional morons. Where “Office Space” championed the modern day worker against the forces of boneheaded bureaucracy, it’s the workers who are the pinheads in his latest opus.
“Extract” feels like an extended episode of a really dimwitted, surprisingly derivative sitcom. The idea is that Joel is a nice guy whom fate has conspired to present with twin dilemmas. On the home front, he must suffer a wife (Kristen Wiig) who has stopped having sex with him (now there’s a new twist). At work, tragedy strikes just as he’s about to sell his business to General Mills. A pinheaded forklift driver sets off a Rube Goldberg-style series of events culminating in a slapstick accident that costs another pinheaded employee one of his testicles.
Judge’s script fails to squeeze more than a couple of low grade chuckles from either story line. The picture’s second and third acts, in fact, are notable only for their lack of resemblance to anything that might happen on the planet Earth. Take the problem with the Mrs: Joel gets the hots for a sexy new employee (Mila Kunis) but doesn’t feel right about cheating. He consults Ben Affleck, who costars as a sort of combination bartender and life coach. He advises his frustrated friend to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife so, when she cheats on him, he won’t feel guilty about cheating on her. This Joel feels all right about.
Meanwhile, it turns out Kunis is actually a con artist who reads about the incident in the paper and smells big money. She insinuates herself into the life of the uni-testicled Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), who is, of course, too pinheaded to deem it curious that a beautiful, intelligent woman would suddenly find him irresistible. Where he initially is content to accept the company’s insurance settlement, she convinces him he should sue even if it bankrupts the business.
Just when you think things couldn’t get any more preposterous, up pops Gene Simmons as a parody of those lawyers who advertise on TV that they can make you rich if you’ve been injured on the job (kind of an easy target for a satirist of Judge’s caliber). I can see why Kunis’ character finds him the perfect choice. What baffles me is that the filmmaker would have. It’s not like there’s novelty value to Simmons’ appearance. Between his “Apprentice” stint and his reality show, he is if anything overexposed at this point. And it’s certainly not like he can act. His cameo just adds to “Extract’s” everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sense of desperation.
It gets worse. The great David Koechner is wasted in that mustiest of tropes: the nosy neighbor. What is this, “Bewitched”? He ambushes Joel again and again at the least convenient moment. It’s supposed to be a running gag but it’s such an old joke it needs a walker.
Theaters exhibiting Judge’s latest should have punch clocks installed because sitting through it is a grind and audiences which make it to the closing credits deserve compensation for their time. The story’s payoff is an anticlimactic embarrassment, the picture’s only surprise: that popular comic presences like Bateman, Wiig, Koechner and J.K. Simmons are capable of spending an hour and a half on screen without generating a laugh.
Maybe it is unfair to expect Judge to equal his earlier riff on life in the 9 to 5 world. For one thing, since the arrival of “The Office” in 2005, this television show has left little on the theme unskewered. For another, it’s possible his disconnect has something to do with being ten years further removed from existence as a non-multimillionaire mogul. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: when it comes to the workplace comedy, Mike Judge is no longer king of the hill.