LABOR PAIN Bateman plays a business owner beleaguered by his dim-witted workforce in the latest from Mike Judge.
Ten years after turning out the immortal workplace comedy Office Space, writer-director Mike Judge has revisited the genre and handed in an exercise in pointlessness whose early dailies should’ve inspired Miramax to hand him a pink slip. Easily the most disappointing movie of the summer, Extract is, more significantly, the biggest letdown of its esteemed creator’s career.
After all, we’re talking about the guy who masterminded not just the above-mentioned live-action classic but 2006’s Idiocracy and such animation milestones as “Beavis and Butt-Head” and the recently abdicated “King of the Hill.” Shaquille O’Neal can’t not be large. Jack Nicholson can’t not be cool. Before seeing his latest film, I never would have imagined Mike Judge could not be funny.
He proves me wrong for an uninspired, feeble-minded 90 minutes with the story of Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman), the owner of a factory that manages to mass-produce food flavorings despite the fact that most of its employees are one-dimensional morons. Where Office Space championed the modern-day worker against the forces of bone-headed bureaucracy, in Judge’s latest opus it’s the workers who are the pinheads.
Extract feels like an extended episode of a really dim-witted, surprisingly derivative sitcom. The idea is that Joel is a nice guy against whom fate has conspired to present him with twin dilemmas. On the home front, he must suffer a wife (Kristen Wiig) who has stopped having sex with him (now there’s a new twist). At work, tragedy strikes just as he’s about to sell his business to General Mills. A pinheaded forklift driver sets off a Rube Goldberg-style series of events culminating in a slapstick accident that costs another pinheaded employee one of his testicles.
Judge’s script fails to squeeze more than a couple of low-grade chuckles from either story line. The picture’s second and third acts, in fact, are notable only for their lack of resemblance to anything that might happen on planet Earth. Take the problem with the Mrs.: Joel gets the hots for a sexy new employee (Mila Kunis), but doesn’t feel right about cheating. He consults Ben Affleck, who costars as a sort of combination bartender and life coach. Affleck advises his frustrated friend to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife, so, when she cheats on him, he won’t feel guilty about cheating on her. This Joel feels all right about.
Meanwhile, it turns out Kunis is actually a con artist who read about the accident in the paper and smelled big money. She insinuates herself into the life of the unitesticled Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), who is, of course, too pinheaded to deem it curious that a beautiful, intelligent woman would suddenly find him irresistible. While he initially was content to accept the company’s insurance settlement, she convinces him he should sue even if it bankrupts the business.
Just when you think things couldn’t get any more preposterous, up pops Gene Simmons as a parody of those lawyers who advertise on TV, promising to enrich those who’ve been injured on the job (kind of an easy target for a satirist of Judge’s caliber). I can see why Kunis’ character finds him the perfect choice for her scheme. What baffles me is that the filmmaker did. It’s not like there’s novelty value in Simmons’ appearance. Between his stint on “The Apprentice” and his own reality show, he is, if anything, overexposed at this point. And it’s certainly not like he can act. The KISS bassist’s cameo just intensifies Extract’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sense of desperation.
It gets worse. The great David Koechner is wasted in the role of that mustiest of on-screen tropes: the nosy neighbor. What is this — “Bewitched”? He ambushes Joel repeatedly at the least convenient moments. It’s supposed to be a running gag, but it’s such an old joke it needs a walker.
Theaters exhibiting Judge’s latest should have punch clocks installed, because sitting through it is a grind; viewers who make it to the closing credits deserve compensation for their time. The story’s payoff is an anticlimactic embarrassment. The picture’s only surprise is that popular comic presences such as Bateman, Wiig, Koechner and J.K. Simmons are capable of spending an hour and a half on screen without generating a laugh.
Maybe it was unfair to expect Judge to match his earlier riff on life in the 9-to-5 world. For one thing, 10 years ago TV’s “The Office” was not arount to make audiences laugh by mining the same subject matter. Since its arrival, it’s left little about the cubicle existence unskewered.
It’s also possible that Judge’s disconnect has something to do with being 10 years further removed from his former life as a nonmultimillionaire mogul. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: When it comes to the workplace comedy, Mike Judge is no longer king of the hill.