Right in time for the economic downturn comes Extract, a smart and potently funny workplace comedy about running a small business just as small businesses get routinely run into the ground. Writer-director Mike Judge switches gears from his 1999 white-collar classic Office Space by sending a little sympathy to the bossman. That’d be Joel Reynold (Jason Bateman) a decent guy to the blue-collar assembly liners who produce his flavor extracts. Everything goes haywire for Joel when an accident blows a testicle off a floor manager (Clifton Collins Jr.). Joel’s balls are also in danger of extraction, not just from the insurance company but from Joel’s wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who wears sweatpants as a chastity belt. Joel is ripe for something. At first, he thinks it’s an affair with Cindy (hottie Mila Kunis), a scam artist posing as a new employee. Joel is so eager to get close to Cindy that he relies on the advice of his stoner bartender pal Dean (Ben Affleck, a goofball delight hiding behind a beard). Dean thinks Joel can feel free to move in on Cindy if Suzie cheats first. So he arranges for Joel to hire a seducer named Brad (Dustin Milligan), a hunk dumb enough to have starred in Judge’s last film, the underrated Idiocracy.
Are you with me? No need. Clichés are being juggled here. The office supervisor (J.K. Simmons) who can’t remember anyone’s name. An aggressively dull neighbor (David Koechner) to drive Joel bananas. A sleazebag lawyer (Gene Simmons, scarier than he’s ever been in Kiss warpaint). But Judge, best known as the creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, has a rare talent: he can anchor laughs to the rhythms of life not sitcom.
Extract reminds us of how little a damn Hollywood gives for the workplace where most Americans spend their lives. Joel’s employees run the gamut from a clueless rocker (T.J. Miller) to a specialist in whining (Beth Grant). But Judge allows his gifted actors the space to turn caricatures into characters. Bateman excels in all departments. He can play the Everyman without ever making him virtuous or smug. His pothead scene with Affleck is a riot. But jokes are easy compared to the touching joy and gravity Bateman achieves by just showing Joel standing in the middle of the company he created and breathing it in. Judge is in the business of social satire, and his laughs can sting, but his movie is a comic salute to free enterprise. And, boy, do we need it now.