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Non-Review Review: Extract

I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of Extract. Ironically for a movie about a factor producing flavour additives, the movie seems lack a flavour of its own. Is Mike Judge’s effort a quirky and eccentric anything-goes laugh-out-loud fest, or is it a more conventional cookie-cutter comedy? The film seems to fluctuate between the two extremes, at times playing incredible safe and yet occasionally swinging for the fences, adding to a vaguely disjointed feeling to the whole thing.

Meeting of the bored...

The movie follows Joel, a man who runs his own business producing food flavouring. Joel wants to cheat on his wife with new employee Cindy, so following advice from his druggie barman Dean, Joel conspires to hire a gigalo (and former landscape gardener) to sleep with his wife to alleviate his own guilt. It’s a fairly ridiculous and unconventional comedy plot, and it’s to the movie’s credit that it doesn’t wuss out on it – a lesser movie might have played it safe by not having the affair actually occur (through ridiculous contrivance), and it’s fairly daring of the movie to follow through on it.

And this subplot does lead to most of the laughs, because it’s a premise rich in comedy gold. When Joel discovers that the gigalo didn’t just sleep with his wife once, he refuses to treat the subsequent sex as a freebie. “You are not going to have sex with my wife for free,” he insists, in one of the most wonderfully bizarre pieces of internal logic I’ve ever seen. So Joel isn’t exactly your typical comedy protagonist, in that he’s not exactly the type of fellow the audience is asked to root for. Even if he might be doped up on Dean’s “not-quite-Xanax” when he signs off on the plan, he’s still essentially honey-trapping (is it honey-trapping if you do it to a lady?) his wife in order to feel better about his own desire to cheat on her.

Crate minds...

That’s grand, and fascinating, and it creates a rather wonderful uncertain atmosphere. To be entirely honest, how many movies with a premise that daring actually follow through? There are far too many that wuss out at the last minute, afraid of alienating the viewer. However, the problem here is that the movie seems to paste this rather unconventional little plotline over a fairly standard template. Despite the fact he’s man who will (while originally doped up) pay a man to sleep with his wife to clear his conscience about his own planned affair, Joel is presented as a decent guy who cares very deeply about what he does, and all the multitude of issues raised by his zany plan end up being somewhat glossed over without any real hint of consequences. It starts and ends like a cookie-cutter comedy, which makes the middle feel all the more awkward.

We’re meant to cheer him on as he plays the role of the oppressed little guy about to lose his extract firm, the one thing that genuinely matters to him, where he takes care of his employees to the very best of his ability, even if they aren’t smart enough to realise it. It feels surreal to watch the movie resolve all its plot points in a very straight-forward manner when the set-up took such pride in being just a little bit strange. If it wasn’t for the zany affair subplot that introduces all manner of moral ambiguity, this would be a fairly conventional little comedy – which makes everything seem strange, but not necessarily in a good way.

Wiig-ing out...

It’s a shame, because – apart from that really strange central inconsistency – the movie’s quite solid. Jason Bateman is good, and he’s surrounded by a superb cast, including J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, Clifton Collins Jr. and David Koechner. Koechner in particular stands out as Joel’s “talk you to death” neighbour, in one of the movie’s cruelest (and funniest) set-ups, something that I imagine quite a few of us can relate to.

Then there’s Ben Affleck in the movie’s mandatory quirky supporting role as Dean, delivering such gems as, “Xanax basically just makes you feel good. That’s why it works for everything. I take it for the common head cold.” And he also insists of marijuana, “it’s not a drug, it’s a flower!” It’s not a brilliant little role that redefines how we think of Affleck, and it doesn’t necessarily change the way we think of the actor, but it does stand as one small step on his road to career recovery. In a way, Dean represents the central problem of the movie – he’s “out there”, but he’s not necessarily “out there” enough, so he ends up feeling more conventional than he ought to, which creates a weird dissonance.

Still, Extract’s a funny movie, with a variety of well-handled little sequences and a shining wit. It just has a bit of difficulty balancing its conventional and unconventional aspects.

2 Responses

  1. Gee, I thought I was the only person who saw this movie! Nice write up. I thought Bateman did a good job and I enjoyed it while it was on, but I already hardly remember anything about it.

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