In the course of a career that's now almost two decades long, Mike Judge has shown a keen ability to capture ordinariness and make it palatable but still fraught with everyday problems. The laconic nature and lives of his characters so often seem to be the point. Indeed, what would Beavis and Butt-head even be without their constant boredom and preoccupation with the basest of human wants (food, sex, entertainment). Judge's next animated series, the richer if less hilarious King of the Hill, elevated the lives of regular (cartoon) folk into some kind of art. As American television comedies seemed to stop bothering with the kinds of family-oriented shows which had thrived in the medium since its inception, the Hills and their exceptionally comic yet sincere day-to-day lives quietly represented middle America more than perhaps any other concurrent small screen characters. In his films, Office Space, Idiocracy and now Extract, Judge has skewed a bit more acerbic, often portraying society as an unbalanced mix of kooky, disheveled, and downright incompetent and revealing how odd the ordinary can actually be.
Judge's universe tends to have a subtle brilliance about it, and Extract is no exception. The film stars Jason Bateman as the founder and owner of a successful food additive company which manufactures flavored extracts like vanilla, almond and root beer. His marriage is in a drought sexually. His best friend is a bartender (Ben Affleck) who's frequently under the influence and full of generally bad advice. The upside is that General Mills has shown interest in purchasing the company, which pleases his business partner (J.K. Simmons). Where's the conflict then? For starters, an on-the-job accident involving one longtime employee (the always exceptional Clifton Collins, Jr.) is a source of major aches and pains. It also gets the attention of a beautiful con artist (Mila Kunis) who, in a funny bit, focuses particularly on the combination of a potential lawsuit worth a million dollars or more and the injured party's testicle loss. Add to everything else Bateman's drug-induced plan to bait his wife (Kristen Wiig) with an empty-headed gigolo (Dustin Milligan) vouched for by Affleck, plus Gene Simmons as, I think, the unfrozen caveman lawyer, and there's no shortage of plot strands to keep Extract afloat for its short, hour and a half running time.
What keeps the film anchored more than anything else is Bateman's everyman performance. A myriad of film roles have followed the actor's resurgence on Arrested Development, but they've all been in support until now. Here he's a bit closer to Michael Bluth than in most all of the other pictures. This is the sort of guy you could easily imagine Jack Lemmon having played in the sixties or seventies. He's frustrated at home, successful but empty at work, and, ultimately, surrounded by a bunch of dinkuses. The 21st century Matthau to Bateman's Lemmon would be Affleck, who's just really, really great. It was hard to understand the huge backlash Affleck faced several years ago but his acting work in the past few years in smallish, supporting roles should be reminder enough of the sort of screen presence he's capable of showing. With Extract and State of Play, he and Bateman teamed for a pair of very different 2009 films that had quite similar effects in that both were the sort of satisfying watches along a groove Hollywood tends to neglect too often.
Something else to appreciate Extract for is its willingness to make virtually every character go a step beyond the usual threshold of likability so that events unfold less predictably than you might think. Judge lets everyone have his or her indiscretions rather than holding up the movie morals of what should and should not be allowed. It adds a human element, for better or worse. Right and wrong are blurred a little and the character who's most clearly bad news actually exhibits some redeeming qualities. A comparison of Judge to Billy Wilder might be a stretch, but the latter was also fond of toying with moral expectations and highlighting behavior some could perceive as ethically flawed. Like Wilder, Judge understands in Extract that to get by with lapses in judgment the main character must be more or less sympathetic. Here he makes Bateman a basically good guy whose whims get the best of him. Because it's a movie, learning and hope ensue rather than abject failure. That's probably what we'd rather see anyway.
While Extract is a reasonably satisfying watch that's worth recommending, its narrative can feel unfocused at times. I was surprised to watch the few (under five minutes' worth) extended and deleted scenes considering their inclusion might have tied things together a bit more neatly. As it is, the supporting characters merely pop up as needed without much importance being placed on their individual fates and motivations. Adding those extra scenes wouldn't have fixed this for sure, but it might have slightly fleshed out Affleck's character so that he's not Kramer-ing around as needed. The part Kunis plays is maybe the most disappointing as she's prominently billed but given little substance. To be fair, most all of the roles aside from Bateman's are (necessarily?) thin and piled one on top of another. None of these people are the type you want to spend a great amount of time with either. Some of that does give Extract a lightweight quality, but it's still probably one of the better comedies of 2009 and a nice outing for all involved.
Miramax and Disney released Extract in U.S. cinemas this past September to modest business after advertising it as little more than an almost sequel to Office Space. This region-locked Blu-ray tiptoed to retailers just three days prior to Christmas. That's better treatment than Fox gave Idiocracy a few years back but there was still a definite lack of care shown by the folks at Disney.
The single-layered Region A disc has a 1080p high definition transfer but nothing here sparkles or, frankly, impresses. This may be one of the blandest-looking images I've seen from a major studio new release. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film still looks a notch ahead of standard DVD but detail and contrast utilize little of the format's capabilities. This easily might be due to how the film was shot rather than any flaws in the transfer, though some inconsistencies in sharpness and overall quality are also a nagging concern. Overall, the video is acceptable for this type of low-key comedy but we've all seen much better.
An English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track lacks ambition and is mostly content to shoot dialogue through the front speakers while saving the rear channels for the occasional classic rock song. Again, this is fine in terms of practicality and conveying the necessary sounds from the movie but no one is likely to marvel at how crisp and full the audio is. Volume levels present no problems. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 dub is also included, as are optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
The bonus material is skimpy despite having a couple of Blu-ray exclusive extras. "Mike Judge's Secret Recipe" (10:46 - HD) is a promotional featurette on the film that has interviews with Judge, Bateman, Kunis and others. The most amusing bit involves Judge the director chastising the line readings of an actor in the film who is actually Judge himself. Pretty standard otherwise. The "Extended Scenes" (4:29) frequently have Affleck adding a few sentences that didn't make the final cut. A short "Deleted Scene" (0:40) is in a similar vein. Both are listed as being only on the Blu-ray version, but the odd thing is that they are actually not in high definition and they're presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
"Sneak Peeks" (6:19) for When in Rome, Surrogates, and The Boys Are Back can be accessed from the menu.