If you play fantasy sports, you know the sports world is filled with talented players who, for whatever reason, never live up to their immense potential — they have so much upside that they’re hard to resist come draft time, but without fail, they end up frustrating their fantasy owners with week after week of unfulfilled promise.
I submit that, if there was a fantasy league for writers and/or directors of mainstream Hollywood comedies, Mike Judge would fall into this “draft tease” category. He’s like the Deion Branch of directors. And I think I might be ready to give up on him.
Now, don’t get me wrong — as my fellow Seahawks fans know, Deion Branch is a certified fucking bust, and Mike Judge has never made a truly bad film. But I think Judge is just as maddening, because he makes you think he’s going to give you a great movie — and he’s come close in the past — but he never does it. (Shut your mouth about Office Space. I love it too, but you know as well as I do that it falls apart in the final act.) With Extract, Judge takes a splendid cast (anchored by a never-funnier Jason Bateman), combines it with a solid premise, and still somehow manages to produce a movie that’s nothing more than a mildly amusing trifle. It’s the kind of film you’d expect to see as a miniseries on the FX network during a slow month — 92 minutes of chuckles that never add up to a single guffaw. I’d be mad about Extract if I hadn’t started forgetting it the minute it ended.
At his best, Bateman comes across like a mildly skeevier Bob Newhart, and Extract overflows with Newhart-esque potential: Bateman stars as the owner of a flavor extract company whose plans to sell the factory and cash out are complicated when an accident leaves one of his employees down a testicle (and plus one loudmouth attorney, played with a perfect coat of grease by Gene Simmons). Complicating matters is his dissatisfaction with his marriage to a wife (played by a mostly wasted Kristen Wiig) who’s more interested in watching Dancing with the Stars than spending time with him. On the advice of his best friend (Ben Affleck), he decides to dupe his wife into having an affair, which will then absolve him of any guilt from pursuing the smokin’ temp (Mila Kunis) who’s just started working at his company.
Miserable people doing ridiculous things in pursuit of an unattainable goal. It’s a classic Mike Judge setup, and the way Extract sighs dully to its inevitable conclusion is a classic Judge letdown. This is a movie that begs for acid wit, but Judge’s jokes are all cream puffs; the only real laughs come from surrounding Bateman with nincompoops and filming his (often silent) reactions to it all. I know people who walked away from Extract pissed off at the way it pretends to be subversive, only to ultimately cop out, but that didn’t bother me; I’ve grown numb to happy endings, and anyway, I’d checked out long before the final reel. Judge seems like he’s been so stung by previous box office disappointments that he’s no longer sure of how to entertain himself, and the result is cinematic dishwater. I feel bad, because he seems like a perfectly nice guy, and he’s capable of near genius-level comedy writing, but I’m cutting him from my team.
The Extract Blu-ray is as uninspired as the film itself. Visually, it’s about what you’d expect; Judge films his movies like sitcoms, and you get more of the same flat lighting and framing here. The 1080p transfer is perfect, for what it is, as is the 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack; where the disc disappoints is with the bonus materials, which consist of a deleted scene, some extended scenes, and a deeply lame featurette that relies heavily on the sort of “I had so much fun making this” footage you’ve seen a million times. Knowing Miramax, the skimpy extras had more to do with the studio being cheap than anything else, but they still add up to one of the lamer Blu-rays you’re liable to come across this season. Save your $25 and watch the first two-thirds of Office Space again. (Extract is also available on DVD.)