- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

Mike Judge has carved out an odd little niche for himself in feature films. On the one hand, his cult classic “Office Space” takes a blowtorch to the idiocy of upper management, defending white-collar cubicle dwellers from the tyranny of TPS reports and time sheets and a cadre of bosses who don’t care about their well-being.

On the other hand, he revealed utter disdain for the common man in what might go down as his most influential work, “Idiocracy.” In that picture, humanity’s gene pool has degraded beyond repair because those of less intelligence have outbred the upper-middle and upper classes. Indeed, the term idiocracy has entered the lexicon as a symbol for everything wrong in the world.

In a way, “Extract” synthesizes those competing impulses into a somewhat satisfying whole. Joel (Jason Bateman) is the competent but overwhelmed owner of Extract, a company that develops and bottles artificial flavors. His work force is a group of dimwits who need constant supervision lest they bring the plant to a grinding halt.

When one of them, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), has his testicles shattered in a freak accident at the plant, Joel’s carefully laid plans are on the verge of crashing down around him. Step is considering a lawsuit, and the resultant legal costs in all likelihood would bankrupt Extract, jeopardizing the deal Joel has been working on to sell his company to General Mills.

Joel’s personal life isn’t much better: He hasn’t made love to his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig) in months, and he spends his evenings at a local hotel bar kvetching to his bartender buddy/drug connoisseur Dean (Ben Affleck). When a hot young kleptomaniac (Cindy, played by Mila Kunis) arrives at the plant, Joel and Dean concoct a harebrained scheme to enable Joel to sleep with Cindy guilt-free.

Though not quite as funny as “Office Space” and almost certainly less quotable, “Extract” skillfully mines both the workplace and personal space for moments of hilarity. If there’s a weak link in the story, it’s Cindy: She appears and disappears and then reappears right as the credits roll, flitting in and out of the story with no real purpose other than to tempt Joel and set Step’s lawsuit in motion.

The acting is, for the most part, top-notch. Mr. Bateman continues a solid run of recent years even if his character — the put-upon boss who is surrounded by idiots and problems at home — is virtually identical to the role he played to perfection on “Arrested Development.” Mr. Affleck serves as the Platonic ideal of a philosopher-stoner in a key supporting role; his goofy grin and occasionally mumbly line delivery are spot-on.

The supporting cast is similarly excellent: J.K. Simmons plays a gruff but funny manager, David Koechner plays Joel’s annoying neighbor, with a verbal cadence suspiciously similar to that of Bill Lumbergh from “Office Space,” and Gene Simmons (that’s right, the Kiss vocalist and bassist) growls his way through his turn as an abrasive personal-injury attorney.

★★★

TITLE: “Extract”

RATING: R (language, sexual references and some drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Mike Judge

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.extract-the-movie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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