What is the most boring job in the world? It’s a question that filmmakers have addressed, usually obliquely, countless times. Often, the dullness of a feigned career is offered in ironic counterpoint to the excitement of a real one--Tom Cruise’s cover identity working as a traffic analyst in Mission Impossible III (which actually sounded somewhat fascinating) or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sunlighting as a software salesman in True Lies (which decidedly did not). Other times, the dullness is itself the point, a vocational and spiritual dead-end from which our hero must free himself by throwing caution to the wind.
Thanks to Extract, the new comedy by Mike Judge, “food-additive manufacturer” must now take its place near the top of the latter category, if only through sheer repetition. Like Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold in the Vacation movies, Judge’s protagonist, Joel (Jason Bateman), makes the stuff--specifically, extracts of vanilla, almond, cherry, root beer, and other such sundries--that other companies use to make the food we eat. How it is that so obscure a cog in the culino-capitalist machine has come to cast such a long shadow over American comedy is one of those mysteries perhaps best left unexplored.
Joel’s problems are twofold: First, a workplace accident of extreme testicular severity threatens to undercut the proposed sale of his small company to General Mills; and second, Joel’s wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), hasn’t slept with him in weeks. (This carnal deprivation manifests itself in a pair of sweat pants that she ties tight with celibate finality at eight o’clock sharp.) Under the influence of an accidentally ingested horse tranquilizer, Joel is persuaded by his bartender friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), to hire a young gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to pose as a pool boy and romance Suzie. If she resists the advances, the logic goes, all is well and good; and if she gives in, there will be no moral compulsion to keep Joel from making his own moves on Cindy (Mila Kunis), a recent hire at his plant who’s made a point of expressing her awe at his third-rate corporate titanhood.
Hilarity ensues, if only intermittently. Like Judge’s previous big-screen efforts, Idiocracy and Office Space (he’s also the creator of “King of the Hill” and “Beavis and Butthead”), Extract has a loose, episodic feel, but many of its episodes seem inadequately explored. At 91 minutes, it’s of comparable length to his other features, but somehow it feels shorter. Characters come and go but, apart from Joel, none come to life. Kunis in particular, who was so unexpectedly winsome in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has perhaps 20 minutes of screen time (perhaps less), despite being the second-billed performer in the film.
Extract is not a bad movie, exactly, but is an eminently, almost instantly, forgettable one. If anything, it resembles its titular foodstuffs: less a fully realized comedy than the distillation of one. The ingredients are there, and the recipe as well, but Judge evidently forgot that the whole dish still needed cooking.