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Extract

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Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig in Extract
Scaling back his ambition after the little seen sci-fi flick Idiocracy, director Mike Judge returns to familiar ground with workplace comedy Extract, an examination of professional and personal strife with the always affable Jason Bateman at its centre. It shares a similar throughline to Judge's cult favourite Office Space, but the laughs are never quite as forthcoming and stuck-in-routine observations not as acute.

Frustrated by a lack of bedroom action with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) - the drawstrings on her sweatpants might as well be chastity belt padlocks - Bateman's extract plant owner Joel Reynold and his best pal Dean (Ben Affleck) hatch a drug-induced plan to hire gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife so that he can have an affair with floor temp Cindy (Mila Kunis) guilt free. Matters are complicated when it swiftly emerges that Cindy is a hottie hustler who's using Step (Clifton Collins Jr), painfully injured down below thanks to a work mishap, to bring a lawsuit to bankrupt the company. Add to that Brad's continuing affair with Suzie and a Ned Flanders-like irritating neighbour (David Koechner) and it's a wonder that Joel's level-head doesn't erupt like Eyjafjallajökull.

Like Office Space, Judge uses a hair-brained scheme to punctuate everyday mundanity. Here it's a honey trap prompted by marital angst, before it was a financial scam (lifted from Superman III) brought on by cubicle drudgery and Gary Cole's creepy David Brent prototype Bill Lumbergh. Extract is effective and occasionally very funny, yet the lackadaisical approach make events feel too low-key for their own good.

Perhaps stung by the failure to meld his own sensibilities with a commercial premise in Idiocracy, Judge was never going to make a tilt at an emotionally transformative comedy (it's not really his style), but the nuance and subtlety he seeks here doesn't really feel built for the big screen. When it does step outside of everyman territory, the tonal shifts are jarring. Judge just about gets away with the slapstick testicular injury for Step, but Gene Simmons's gung-ho cameo as a hot air lawyer is a little misjudged. That aside, the performances are excellent, particularly (and surprisingly) Affleck, who, looking like a hobo Messiah, acts as a well-meaning but morally flexible confidant to Joel.

Extract is the kind of economical comedy that's more about sly grins of acknowledgments and quiet chuckles than rolling in the aisles laughter. However, it's got good intentions and, in Bateman, a beleaguered protagonist to root for. Towards the end Joel informs his factory employees that if they work for a faceless bottling corporation their boss will never know their names. He's right, and in Extract it's refreshing to see a nice guy not finishing last.


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