MOVIE REVIEW: EXTRACT

What man writes a script – a comedy no less – that has a character who gets his testicles blown off?  A woman writing it, I would believe.  But a guy?  Well, leave it to Mike Judge, the brains behind “Beavis & Butthead”, “Office Space” and “Idiocracy”, to do just that.  A man who you might call obsessed with the thought of his own testicles being blown off, to hear Mike Judge tell it, seems a perfectly normal concept. “When I was in high school, for science fair I actually made an x-ray machine, x-ray generator, with an old tv tube and a Tesla coil.  I got it to work and then I read that x-rays can actually make you sterile.  So I immediately built this lead box around it and I got scared as I got older.  I was 15 at the time and thought ‘Man, did I just ruin my testicles and I won’t be able to have kids?’  Then when I was first married, I had the premonition that my testicles were going to get knocked off in a car wreck.  And then I got into a pretty bad freeway wreck and I remember thinking, ‘Ah, my testicles are still here!  My back hurts, my neck hurts, but…my testicles are here.”    And so, you have part of our story – all based in reality.  Judge makes this little tidbit one of the primary comedic prongs in this funny (albeit uneven at times), extraction of the humorous, er, or not so humorous,  events of one man’s dysfunctional life.

Joel Reynolds is the owner of Reynolds Extracts.  A flavoring extract manufacturer, Reynolds has skyrocketed to the top of the industry thanks to his formulation of a scientific process that allows him to infuse a multitude of flavors into your every day cooking and baking extract.  No longer is there just plain old vanilla or almond extract, no, thanks to Joel, bakers and cooks can now spice up their life with banana nut, chocolate cream and other assorted delights.  If  only Joel’s life was as flavorful as his extracts.   For while he may be a leader of local industry (enough so that rival General Mills wants to buy Reynolds Extracts), at home he’s anything but as it’s wife Suzie who wears the pants in the family – literally.  If Joel isn’t home before 8:00 p.m., Suzie dons her sweat pants and ties the waist knot tight, serving as a  no entry, do not disturb sign to Joel who then gets to spend a nut-crushing evening at the local bar lamenting over his dismal sex life with his best friend and bartender, Dean.  (God bless those bartender friends!)    Either that, or being driven insane by his pain-in-the-ass next door neighbor Nathan who always seem to meet Joel at his driveway at 7:55 p.m. 

Frantic with worry over Suzie’s attitude towards him and their flavorless marriage, Joel seeks counsel from Dean who, in his infinite wisdom, devises a plan to test Suzie’s loyalty to Dean – hire a “gigolo” with the cover of being the new pool cleaner at the house and see if Suzie makes a play for him or responds to any moves he may put on her.    Dismissing this idea as ludicrous, after a lot of alcohol and some horse tranquilizers from Dean’s handy dandy pocket medicine chest, Joel goes along with the plan.

In the meantime, a few little problems develop at the plant when Joel’s self-proclaimed “fastest sorter” (and next in line to be Floor Manager), Step, finds himself losing his balls – literally – thanks to an industrial accident that plays out like a game of dominoes between the group of oddballs and misfits Joel has working for him, all of whom seem to have been extracted from another realm, particularly fanny-packing buttinsky Mary and the goth-rock seemingly brain dead, Rory.  Ruining the company’s perfect OSHA “no injury” record, Joel’s right hand man Brian is more worried about a lawsuit by Step and a back-out by General Mills than he is about Step’s injury.

But with Step injured, even more problems arise for Joel, particularly with a temp named Cindy hired to work the production line.   A sultry, sexy, scheming vixen, from the start, Cindy has more on her mind than capping extract bottles. (And so does Joel.)  But, on seeing Step’s story on the local news, Cindy, a psychopathic liar and thief, sees a pot of gold at the end of the extract rainbow – Step.  And the only way for Cindy to get her gold is to get “her man”, get him a lawyer to “fight for his rights” and then extract every dollar she can from the company and Step.  And who does she get as Step’s lawyer?  None other than Joe Adler, the king of bus bench and bus back advertising a la Los Angeles’ own Juan “Accidentes” Dominguez, and  who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to Kiss’ Gene Simmons.

Jason Bateman really surprised me. As he has matured, his performances have gotten stronger and here, he runs the emotional gamut of concerned, loving, frustrated, a best friend, comedic, confident in business – a full-fledged-honest-to-goodness fully realized and dimensional person like each of us. INCREDIBLE!  He is absolutely adorable as the hapless and harried Joel.   Bateman brings an “everyman” quality to the role that is attractive and likeable much like a Jimmy Stewart.  There is a kindness to Joel that is purely due to Bateman’s performance.

Clifton Collins, Jr. is always a joy no matter what the role, but here as Step, he brings an endearing quality to a character that is basically shy and just trying to over-emote as a way to win friends and get ahead.  But don’t get me wrong, there’s also an irritating irascibility to Step that serves to balance Collin’s gifted performance as a man who’s lost his balls!   Mila Kunis is a wide-eyed wonder of beauty, brains and bewilderment as the conniving Cindy.   And not to be missed are supporting players, David Koechner and Beth Grant, as neighbor Nathan and buttinsky Mary.  Koechner has perfected comedic annoyance while Grant is just downright hysterical.  And while Grant’s characters always have a similar thread running through them, she makes each distinctly different with her characterizations.  Dustin Milligan easily handles the role of gigolo Brad and besides being easy on the eyes, let me assure you, the ‘brain dead” persona of Brad is purely an act as Milligan is one of the most articulate interview subjects I know.  The always reliable J.K. Simmons is another favorite supporting go-to guy of mine and as Joel’s right-hand Brian, is a perfect brusk impersonal counterpart to the kindhearted Joel.

A real surprise in the film is Ben Affleck who, I think, has never been funnier.  As Dean he is funny, funny, funny. The way the story and his character were written, I fully expected him to be the one to show up for the sexual encounters with Joel’s wife as opposed to a flunky surfer-dude wannabe.  Nice little twist.

But the scene stealer of the show is none other than Gene Simmons himself as the over-the-top amalgamation of Juan “Accidentes” Dominguez, Larry Parker, David Grey and Johnnie Cochran all rolled into one (although Judge likens Adler to some bus bench attorneys from New Mexico who “always make me laugh”), as the “slam your balls in the door” Attorney Joe Adler.  He is simply to die for!   (See the film to understand that little balls reference.  You will be rolling in the aisle!)  When Judge wrote the role of Adler, he actually described him as “looking like Gene Simmons with a ponytail and a suit and tie.  I didn’t realize everybody knows what Gene Simmons looks like from that reality show.  I was hoping this would be a ‘who is that guy.’   I had seen him on ‘Politically Incorrect’, the only time I ever saw him without his make-up, and I thought ‘wow, he could play a sleazy businessman.’” Thankfully, despite countless actors vying for the role, no one was quite right, leaving producer John Altschuler to proclaim, “we need someone who’s a running sewer of a human being.”  And the next day they had Gene Simmons come in.  According to Judge, “Simmons was just a total pro.”

Written and directed by Judge, anyone who has seen any of his works, knows he has his own patented brand of humor.  Starting out “thinking of the stupid stuff…needless stuff and then the gigolo” , the bigger picture followed when Judge realized he “wanted to do a workplace comedy that’s from the boss’s point of view in a factory.”  In addition to calling on his own life experience for a large part of his story (he did work in a factory), and his fascination for “why getting kicked or hit in the buts always gets a laugh” (something he also pondered over with the Pulitzer price winning author Jared Diamond during the filming of “Idiocracy”),  Judge added a few other personal experiences to the mix when it comes to the plot line involving Cindy and Step.  “There was also a girl that I knew peripherally that was very shady and she had read about a construction accident and a guy that was going to get a big settlement.  She disappeared for like a month and came back with this guy as her boyfriend.”   Capitalizing on life’s foibles of bad upon bad decisions and actions, Judge creates a comedy minefield.  Disappointing, however,  is the lack of backstory to explain Cindy, resulting in a detraction from the credibility and believability of the story, not to mention overkill on some of the jokes.  4 or 5 times of overplay on the same joke becomes tedium – not comedy.

Celebrating the fact that foibles of life can be fun and funny, there are lots of laughs to be extracted from EXTRACT.

Joel – Jason Bateman

Dean – Ben Affleck

Step – Clifton Collins, Jr.

Cindy – Mila Kunis

Joe Adler – Gene Simmons

Written and directed by Mike Judge.

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