Mike Judge's Extract has some huge belly laughs, a terrific ensemble cast and more than a few instances of inspired comic brilliance. So why doesn't the movie ever really take off? Judge, the creator of TV's Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill and director of the little-seen Idiocracy and the much-beloved Office Space, knows how to write a great gag and has a sharp observational wit. But he still hasn't learned how to blend a roster of characters and story incidents into a satisfying whole.
Although never boring and almost continually amusing, Extract doesn't work as a movie because you don't buy a minute of it, even as silly satire. You can't anchor a film with a likable, smart, normal protagonist -- self-made businessman Joel (Jason Bateman), owner of a successful flavor-extract company -- and then surround him with characters so resoundingly broad and stupid they make Looney Tunes seem like quantum-physics documentaries.
Everyone in Extract either lives in the real world -- like Joel and his wife Suzie (an underused Kristen Wiig) or the beautiful con artist (Mila Kunis) who has trained her sights on the extract company, which is about to be bought out by General Mills -- or hails from an alternate universe where the barest semblance of human intelligence is fabled and elusive.
The utter preposterousness doesn't detract from the humor of characters such as Joel's next-door neighboor (David Koechner), a comically bland and dull man unaware that people fear he may bore them to death, or the forklift operator (T.J. Miller) at Joel's company who is obsessed with promoting his thrash-metal rock band.
Ben Affleck practically steals the movie as a bartender with a drug -- and a drug-spawned idea -- to solve any problem (a scene in which he convinces Joel to smoke pot is one of the film's best), and Gene Simmons is hilarious as a slimy personal-injury lawyer.
Extract has no shortage of fine performances, and Bateman, as on TV's Arrested Development, forms the nobly suffering toward which they all gravitate. But the lack of connection to anything resembling the real world renders the film as a series of strung-together moments. (Part of what made the summer hit The Hangover so effective is that you completely bought into the surreal circumstances that the movie thrust onto its characters.)
There's nothing plausible about Extract's main plot, which follows Joel's efforts to recharge his sex life by hiring a slack-jawed gigolo (90210's Dustin Milligan, amusingly making everyone else seem smart) to seduce his wife. Yes, the plot is admittedly hatched while Joel is under the influence. But still.
Nothing is ever at stake in a movie in which you can't believe, so Extract amiably floats along from gag to gag, effectively killing 90 minutes without leaving a trace. The picture is funny enough to live forever on home video and cable TV, like Judge's Office Space did. But at the theater, Extract leaves you still hungry for a movie.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Beth Grant, Clifton Collins Jr., David Koechner, Dustin Milligan, T.J. Miller, Gene Simmons.
Writer-director: Mike Judge.
Producers: John Altschuler, Michael Rotenberg.
A Miramax Films release. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes.
Jason Bateman and Mila Kunis in a scene from Extract.