"Brian, you call half the people that work here dingus, how am I supposed to know who you're talking about?"
Is there a more talented man alive with a worse box-office track record than Mike Judge? The guy can't buy a hit movie to save his life. Now, his first film Beavis & Butthead Do America was a hit, but that had the built in audience from the tv show. His next effort, Office Space, is one of the most quoted, most referenced comedies of the last ten years, but it grossed just a little over ten million dollars in theaters. It proved that there was a second life for films outside of theaters, and between vhs, dvd & endless reruns on Comedy Central, the film is a bona fide cult hit. In 2006 he released the equally genius social satire Idiocracy, which grossed a paltry four hundred thousand dollars during its theatrical run. While it's not as big a cult phenomenon as Office Space was, in some circles (like the ones I run in) it's considered to be the superior film.
In 2009, he released his latest film, Extract, to equally mixed reviews and only ten million dollars in receipts. I had mistakenly thought that the film would be a hit, but it wasn't to be. The film stars Jason Bateman as Joel, the owner and founder of an extract company who's stuck in a passionless marriage with Suzie (Kristen Wiig). Joel's life seems to spiral out of control when a freak accident at his factory leaves one of his workers, Step (Clifton Collins, Jr) without a testicle and a new temp named Cindy (Mila Kunis) begins working at the factory and seems to take an immediate interest in him. Turning to his only friend Dean (Ben Affleck, in a surprisingly hilarious turn) for advice, who suggests that he hire a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife, and once she's had an affair, it will leave him free to sleep with Cindy. Joel soon finds out that not only does this plan make him insanely jealous when his wife begins an affair with the dim-witted gigolo, but there's more to Cindy than meets the eye, and she may be secretly trying to sabotage his entire business.
Like other Mike Judge films, Extract is populated with hilarious minor characters that help to give the film a realistic and relatable edge that sets it apart from other films. JK Simmons plays Joel's right hand man at the factory Brian who refers to everyone that works at the factory by the same three or four nicknames. David Koechner plays Joel's chatty, annoying neighbor, and nobody does that kind of thing better than Koechner, and I do mean that as a compliment. As I said, Affleck is a revelation as the perpetually stoned friend that doles out nothing but bad advice, and Matt Schulze has a great scene as Dean's drug dealer. There's also a great bit at the very beginning of the film with Hal Sparks & Nick Thune as guys working in a guitar shop.
The biggest misstep in the whole film is the casting of Gene Simmons as an ambulance chasing lawyer whom Step hires to sue for his emotional and physical damages. The negotiation scene is so painfully bad and difficult to watch, I honestly felt bad for Simmons, even though he's a gigantic asshole in real life. His performance is so bad, it actually allowed me to temporarily forget the fact that he really is an insufferable douchebag, and let me garner a modicum of sympathy for him. That's how bad he is.
Aside from that however, this is Judge's most mature film. Office Space is a spot-on parody of the daily grind of working for a living and Idiocracy is the most prescient satire of George W. Bush's America and what we certainly seemed headed for about 6 years ago. Extract on the other hand isn't really a satire, it's more of a meditation on getting older and not appreciating what you have until it's gone. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of broad comedy, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times, but I think that the casting of Jason Bateman in particular helps to make the film more honest than it has any right to be.
Watching it reminded me a lot of watching Clerks II. Judge is a better filmmaker now than he was ten years ago, and the subject matter of his films has caught up to his burgeoning talent behind the camera. I doubt he'll make another film as good as Idiocracy, but if he continues in the same vein as Extract, he'll prove to be one of the premier comedy directors in America.
Don't go in expecting another Office Space or Idiocracy, and you'll enjoy the film tremendously. It's not a bold step forward, but it's certainly a step in the right direction, and it's the kind of film that shows Judge is not content to just spin his wheels, and at the end of the day, that's the sign of a great filmmaker.