CINEMA: The Nutcracker

extract_movie_poster_1.jpgEXTRACT (2009, directed by Mike Judge, 91 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

Something does indeed seem to have been extracted from satiric director Mike Judge: Was it his guts, his heart, his balls? Enough name calling: what’s really missing from this, the third of Judge’s American satires, is the anti-corporate stance that set apart his previous cult comedies, Office Space and Idiocracy. Office Space perfectly captured the happy business speak taught at management seminars to sociopathic bosses while Idiocracy looked at a corporate-controlled future society dumbed-down to neanderthal-levels by the crass equations of the mass media. Idiocracy took such blatant name-brand potshots at Starbucks, Fox News and Carl Jr. (whose new slogan will be “Fuck you! I’m eating!”) that Twentieth Century Fox barely released the film in theaters and dumped it on to home video.

It is hard not to look at Mike Judge’s new workplace comedy Extract without thinking that Judge wants to make a peace offering to the powers that be. The ads remind folks that Extract is from the director of Office Space but perspective makes all the difference. No longer is it the beleaguered workers daring to mock the boss, Extract is the boss sneering in disgust at his sad sack, moronic workers. It is not just that the script itself is forced and cliché-ridden, Extract’s main problem is the fact that a little guy kicking a big guy is funny in a way that a the big guy kicking a little guy will never be.

Jason Bateman is the right guy to play the big boss Joel, who owns a small factory that makes flavor extracts for soft drinks. The factory is filled with idiot working class characters and Joel appears a saint for giving them employment. Bateman captures the character’s smug privileged air but not all is right in his suburban McMansion; his wife Suzie (SNL‘s Kristen Wiig) is refusing her wifely duties, a No-Fly Zone signaled by the way she firmly ties the drawstring of her evening sweatpants. In order to reclaim his manhood he will put down a strike, lay a white trash hottie (Mila Kunis) and, through negligence, neuter the overly-ambitious candidate for floor manager (literally blowing his testicle off). Only with his workers firmly suppressed can this American businessman take his rightful place in the master bedroom.

Taking away his subversive slant, Judge reveals how stilted he is as a director; it seems almost like a classical theatrical advice when Judge lines his suburbanites along the curb in King of the Hill, yet on film he continues to block the scenes like he is directing a high school play. He spends a lot of time on gags that seem like they’re stolen from 1970’s TV sitcoms.  How odd that in Idiocracy he parodied bad TV by making the most popular television show “Ow! My Balls!” featuring a man being continually struck in the crotch; in Extract the film’s most elaborate gag revolves around a crotch shot. It’s like Judge is stuck in somewhere deep inside his own film, crying out for help.

What can you say about a film that Ben Affleck rescues whenever he’s on screen? Wearing a ridiculous dreadlock-like wig and a mock-serious expression, his pill-dealing bartender gives nothing but bad advice to Joel, including the brainstorm that Joel should get a gigolo to seduce his wife to excuse his infidelities, a road the film actually goes down. We’re supposed to relate to a character paying another man to sleep with his wife? Perhaps a situation similar to the indignity felt by a writer swapping his political stripes to get a film made.  Whatever is going on in Extract, it is not particularly funny stuff.

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