Thursday, September 3, 2009
Mike Judge is the chief magistrate of Flyover Land. Sure, other comedy filmmakers can claim to have their fingers on the pulse of Lower Middle America, a country the entertainment businesspeople fly over between L.A. and New York. They may even sell more tickets than Judge. But when it comes to getting under the skin of the Great Unwashed, Judge is, ahem, King of the Hill.
He would have won the honor simply for creating Beavis & Butt-head, but there was also Office Space, and the blithely prophetic Idiocracy. Judge has an instinctive feel for the bored, sullen, hypnotized inertia that settles like dust on his tube-watching, multiplex-crowding, mall-customer characters – the hopelessness too. But he also takes obvious delight in acknowledging their basic decency.
By many measures, Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman) is a decent guy. Owner of a small factory that produces spray-dried flavoring extracts for commercial food businesses, he takes a paternalistic interest in his employees, even the dumbest. And he nurtures hopes of selling out to General Mills. However, he’s distracted by troubles at home. His wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) seems to have lost interest in sex, so he consults the bartender at the local hotel watering hole, a stoner named Dean (Ben Affleck), and considers hitting on one of his workers, a cute newcomer named Cindy (Mila Kunis).
Joel lavishes considerable thought on the state of his wife’s sweatpants – when she puts them on, it means he’s locked out for the night – but not the production line. Plant manager Brian (J.K. Simmons) doesn’t seem to notice that the two women who control the line spend most of their time gossiping, or that Step, the line boss (Clifton Collins Jr., the amiable one-armed store clerk in Sunshine Cleaning) has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sexy Cindy could rent herself out as a weapon of mass destruction. Dean the bartender pops pills and hands out bad advice. Step and his half-brother are happiest watching TV and drinking Pepsi. Brad the “pool guy” (Dustin Milligan) frankly lacks the killer instinct of a successful sex worker. The huge, sinister-looking black rug atop shyster-lawyer Joe Adler’s (Gene Simmons) head could swallow the Reynolds Extract factory. Local lowlife Willie (Matt Schulze) loves his bong too much. Joel’s wandering wife Suzie is content as long as he keeps paying the bills. Meanwhile, Nathan (David Koechner) the neighbor drones on for hours at a stretch and always seems to be lurking outside Joel’s home, waiting to strike.
Judge probably wrote Extract on the back of a pizza box, but it’s funnier and truer to life than anything Judd Apatow ever did. It has a workaday knowledge of the way ordinary, small-town people cheat, drink, steal, commiserate, and pester each other. A month from now we’ll have forgotten it, but this week there isn’t a better movie to sneak out of work to see. Just tell the boss you’re going to the doctor.
EXTRACT 3 • Directed by Mike Judge • Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig, Gene Simmons• Rated R • 90 mins• At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas.