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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Mike Judge’s “Extract” lacks new flavor

Published: October 2, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

As I watched the movie “Extract,” I was prodded by a weird feeling and it wasn’t just a progressive sense of boredom. Rather it was a remarkable sense of déjà vu.

Two hours and one Google search later, it clicked. It turns out that “Extract” is the product of Mike Judge, who also wrote and directed the cult classic “Office Space” ten years earlier. Perhaps it is this amount of time or “Office Space’s” poor box office showing that persuaded Judge that audiences would not recognize the similarities between the two films. Or perhaps he thought that audiences would be overjoyed to experience another variation of the Mike Judge Movie Recipe, which is as follows:

Step one: Begin with a focus on the mundane. While “Office Space” focused on the goings-on in a standard bureaucratic corporation that was so commonplace, no specification of what it actually offered was necessary. “Extract” focuses on the internal struggles within an extract factory. I would elaborate more on what this company does, but really it’s too self-explanatory and boring to warrant further explanation.

Step two: Add an endearing protagonist who exemplifies the adage “nice guys finish last.” While “Office Space” focused on Peter Gibbons, another cog in the corporate machine, Judge slightly raises his standards in “Extract,” which follows extract factory owner Joel Reynolds, played by Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”). However, Judge is sure to balance out Joel’s professional success with personal failures. Despite his place of authority within the factory, it is clear that Joel is walked on by everyone he meets, from the woman who operates the conveyor belt at the factory to his neighbor who forces him into an agonizing ten minute conversation, resulting in the unwilling decision that Joel will attend a charity dinner with him.

Step three: Mix in a host of quirky personalities with too many character flaws to count and blend thoroughly with the protagonist. At home, Joel’s marriage to Suzie, a coupon designer played by Kristin Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”) is stuck in a deep rut without any sign of coming out. In the workplace, Joel must daily resolve the petty struggles between the conveyor belt operator who has the screeching voice of an indignant grandma and Step, played by Clifton Collins Jr., who, despite his lack of any official title or a proper set of teeth for that matter, struts around bragging about his packing skills.

Then there is Ben Affleck, arguably the biggest name in the movie, who appears to have taken the part as a throwback to his “Mallrats” days. He plays Dean, Joel’s best friend and a bartender at a hotel chain with a connection in every form of vice. However, at this point Affleck only caricatures his former self rather than recapturing the youthful enthusiasm he had before rising to fame with “Good Will Hunting.”

However, the real trouble begins when Cindy, played by Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show”), comes to town after hearing about a factory accident in which an injured Step put in a position to sue the company. Can you say “gold digger”? Cindy stages a run-in with Step and convinces him that instead of graciously not pressing charges against the extract company, he should sue them for all they’re worth.

The trouble that Joel is about to find himself in only deepens when, in her effort to track down Step, Cindy begins working in the factory and Joel becomes convinced that she is flirting with him. Dean, being the guardian of morals that he is, persuades Joel that the most prudent idea would be to hire a male prostitute to entice his wife into cheating on him, so that he is thus free to cheat as well.

Once again, Judge reveals his nice guy protagonist to not be so moral after all. Just as Peter in “Office Space” conspires to embezzle money from his company, Joel also turns to conspiracy and deceit to try to stop his life from becoming a complete failure.

Sure, it’s ten years later and Judge’s protagonist is slightly wealthier and professionally established, but his story of “nice guy goes bad, then good, and everything turns out peachy keen” is stale. Like new computer software, “Extract” improves upon some of the glitches of the original, but lacks the same kick.