Mike Judge’s career arc is fascinating to look at. He is the creator of a number of cult items-Beavis and Butthead, Office Space, Idiocracy–and one very long running TV show (King of the Hill) yet any sort of real critical or popular attention seems to elude him-his movies may be successful, but it’s fairly rare to hear the man himself or larger themes in his work discussed. Which is a shame, as Office Space should be on every “Top Workplace Comedy” list, and the thin line Judge walks between loving the simple, honest working man and utter contempt for him is definitely worthy of serious study. It’s fascinating really. On the one hand King of the Hill‘s Hank Hill seems to be a figure that we are supposed to respect on some level, while in other Judge work very similar characters are depicted as irritating dullards, chumps to be messed with, and the like.
Extract fits into this dichotomy fairly well. Judge could easily have attempted to replicate Office Space, if he had just made Jason Bateman’s (Bates Motel) Joel Reynolds a bit more of an audience identification figure, like that film’s everyman low-level office drone’s hero. Reynolds, it’s true, is the boss of his own company which he created to sell better flavor extracts, he’s reasonably well off, and has an attractive wife (Kristen Wiig, Knocked Up). Judge makes the Reynolds relationship a failing, sexless nightmare and his company something that Reynolds merely wants to sell his way out of. His workers range from manager Brian (J. K. Simmons, The Gift), who also can’t wait to sell and doesn’t know his employees, to racist whiner Mary (Beth Grant, Donnie Darko), dumb redneck Step (Clifton Collins, Jr., Brothers), brain-dead rocker Rory (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield), and Hector, the target of Mary’s attacks. Joel’s only solace is hanging out in the bar he used to work in with his bartender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck, Chasing Amy), who seems to think every problem’s solution is more drugs. Joel’s comfortable hell is turned upside down when a freak accident causes Step to lose one of his testicles attracting scam artist Cindy (Mila Kunis, The Family Guy), who takes up a temp job with the company to get Step to sue. Joel fixates on sleeping with Cindy, which leads Dean to propose the unlikely solution of hiring a local stud to sleep with Joel’s wife, thus alleviating any guilt. Under the influence of drugs, Joel okays Dean’s plan, and things continue to unravel from there.
Judge’s ultimate message seems familiar from his other projects: accept your limitations, embrace your mediocrity. Or is it? There’s really no one in this film that seems to be worthy of emulation. One thing I noticed was that the female characters are either bitter shrews or devious schemers who use their looks to their advantage. Sure, the men are mostly morons, but we’re never given much of a reason for Wiig’s character’s withdrawal from her husband. This may be one reason the film is relatively light on laughs-there’s just no one to root for it. Most of the comedy that is there comes from watching the actors-who are perfectly cast-work, sometimes against type (Affleck’s oddball dumb ass is highly entertaining), but for the most part this is a very black comedy that never quite clicks.