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Workplace jungle

Movies | Extract's language and plot detract from its few fine moments

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

Workplace comedy is well-traveled territory for Mike Judge, writer/director of the new film Extract, who earned a cult following with his 1999 sleeper hit, Office Space. Despite its objectionable content, that film, with it's scenes of fury at fax machines and stapler-hoarding colleagues, explored the irritations of white-collar cubicle workers brilliantly (not to mention, hilariously). Tackling a small, blue-collar factory this time, Judge occasionally hits the same wonderfully ironic notes, but he strikes a lot of sour tones as well.

Embattled husband and founder of an extract (as in vanilla, almond, and root beer) plant, Joel (Jason Bateman) is dissatisfied in all areas of his life. At home, he and his wife are living more as brother and sister than lovers; at work, he referees childish battles between employees, fends off bankruptcy from a workplace injury lawsuit, and generally tries to survive all the pitfalls of a small business owner in modern America.

Few films have skewered the enemies such men face as accurately as when a low-life lawyer (Gene Simmons) starts running television ads in Spanish to inspire immigrant workers to sue their employers as often as their white counterparts do. But whereas Office Space deserved an R rating for language and sexual references, it could be easily stripped of those elements with its story (and hilarity) still intact.

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That's not the case for Extract. Rather than stick with Joel's challenges as an employer, Judge veers off into gross dialogue and an even grosser plot line wherein Joel hires a gigolo to seduce his wife so he can pursue the attractive new factory worker (Mila Kunis) guilt-free. Some of the performances involved in this plot are amusing, but they're cheap laughs that don't boast the keen observation and, thus, staying power that Extract's funniest bits do.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Charlotte, N.C. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.


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