August 26, 2009 / 4:10 AM / 10 years ago

"Extract" distilled from human stupidity

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - For a comedy, “Extract” is kinda depressing. Understand that wildly dysfunctional characters have become the norm in American comedies, but the characters in “Extract” give dysfunction a bad name. Not a single person in this ensemble comedy doesn’t suffer from colossal stupidity. Nor does anyone possess a moral compass. From this contrived situation, writer-director Mike Judge, the creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill,” wrings all the yuks he can. “Extract” might be live action, but it still plays like a cartoon.

Miramax will in turn wring all the box office it can from “Extract,” which opens September 4. There undoubtedly is an audience eager to laugh at dumb people behaving badly. Even so, it’s hard to see how “Extract” will do more than modest business, with perhaps a larger audience awaiting its debut in home entertainment.

Fiction certainly has its share of characters suffering from neurotic anxieties and mental meltdowns, but usually you understand the circumstances. In “Catch-22” or “M*A*S*H,” the daily likelihood of death in the theater of war explains all the craziness. In a Cheech and Chong comedy, no one has to ask what those dudes have been smoking.

But in “Extract,” nothing explains the major stupidity in and about the workplace of a medium-sized business in an unnamed community that looks like bits of Los Angeles pieced together. Perhaps something in the water system?

The actual source of the chain of daft events is the sexual allure of Mila Kunis’ Cindy, who no one seems to realize is a scheming sociopath. Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman), the owner of a flavor-extract plant, certainly is smitten with his new temp employee. His best friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), a substance-abusing bartender, convinces him that to not feel guilty about committing adultery, he should first hire a “gigolo” (Dustin Milligan) to sleep with his wife (Kristen Wiig).

Meanwhile, Cindy has sweet-talked fellow employee Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), who has suffered a bizarre industrial accident, into filing a huge lawsuit against the company that will bankrupt it. (Why the company’s insurance agents and their lawyers aren’t called in never is explained.) Even when Cindy steals workers’ purses, the women assume it can’t possibly be that pretty young woman, so it must be the new Latino employee.

About the only thing Cindy can’t be blamed for is the fact that the company hires only losers and misfits. You do wonder how the firm still is such a success that General Mills is eyeing it as a possible acquisition.

Not for a single moment does anyone in this film make a good decision. Consequently, you quickly catch on and easily anticipate the bad decisions before they happen.

Judge encourages his actors to overplay their hands. The worst offender is Affleck, hiding behind a beard and hair that render him almost unrecognizable. At least that’s good thinking.

On the other hand, Bateman and Wiig stay enough in control — they seem almost normal — that you can’t quite understand their characters’ self-destructive behavior. Then Kiss’ Gene Simmons shows up as a bus-bench-advertising personal-injury lawyer who, like all the others, is grounded in no discernible realty.

Behind-the-scenes work is professional but unremarkable.

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