What's the difference between a comedy on TV and one in the theaters? Is The 40 Year Old Virgin funnier than Everybody Loves Raymond? Is The Hangover edgier than Will and Grace? Is The Proposal wilder than Sex and the City? What are we yearning for on the big screen that will egg us on to shell out $12 dollars for a ticket and another $20 or so for popcorn and a Coke?
It's oddly Mike Judge's latest big screen offering, Extract, that elicits these thoughts. Mr. Judge, the creative force behind "everyone's favorite" juvenile-delinquent slacker cartoon, Beavis and Butthead; the animated Texas redneck with a heart of gold, King of the Hill; and surprising cult DVD hit Office Space (1999).
I should note I had trouble sitting through the latter, an often lame take on the misery of low-end business life, a task that the superb British TV series The Office did and what its American counterpart does so well. The New York Times' Stephen Holden stated the matter perfectly: "Office Space . . . has the loose-jointed feel of a bunch of sketches packed together into a narrative that doesn't gather much momentum. Its conspiratorial eager beavers are so undeveloped that they could hardly even be called types. You don't care for a second what happens to them."
That could almost be repeated word for word about Extract with three exceptions: Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, and Dustin Milligan.
But first the plot of sorts: Joel Reynolds (Bateman) runs a successful, smallish company manufacturing food extracts. The fact that the majority of his employees are either borderline idiots, racists, or recent immigrants who can't speak English doesn't stop General Mills from wanting to buy up the operation for a huge sum.
Reynolds should be on Cloud 9. However, he can't appreciate his luck because his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) won't have sex with him if he arrives home after 8:00 p.m. Yes, by 8:01, she's in her inviolable sweat pants. Being a workaholic, Reynolds's never on time.
If this isn't troubling enough, a work accident occurs, causing Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a goofy employee, to lose a testicle. When this sad tale is reported in the local newspaper, Cindy (That '70s Show's Mila Kunis), a beautiful but trampy con artist, decides to get a job in the factory so she can seduce the one-balled Step into suing Reynolds for several million smackeroos, which she will then get her hands on.
Simultaneously, as Cindy is climbing Step's libido, she's seducing the horny but monogamous Reynolds by faking an interest in the whole food extract process.
So what can a nice guy do? Reynolds's drugged-out best pal, bartender Dean (Affleck), talks him into hiring Brad (Milligan), a young gigolo, to pose as a cleaner of swimming pools. While raking leaves out of the chlorinated waters at the Reynolds home, Brad will try to seduce Suzie. If Suzie succumbs, Reynolds will bed Cindy.
That's basically it.
Here's an affable venture with numerous clichéd scenes that will have you smiling throughout and guffawing aloud now and then, but there's nothing here that would lose its impact with disruptions from a few ads for Maalox and State Farm Insurance. The disjointed screenplay and editing, in fact, seem as though they might actually benefit from commercial interruptions.
Yet considering the featherweight roles they assume, the three lead actors are totally ingratiating. Bateman is clearly becoming one of Hollywood's top all-around actors, capable of bouncing from dramas (State of Play) to comedies. Milligan is a lovable hunk in a role that others would make plain obnoxious. He has located a heart in the sexy buffoon. As for Affleck, he's spot-on as a drugged-out goon. This is one of his least mannered performances.
Everyone else here is rather gleefully one-note, like the characters in The Andy Griffith Show, amusing caricatures that are pleasing to reconnect with between bathroom breaks. Just remember to flush. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell teaches "The Arts in New York City" at City College. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, The Advocate, and dozens of other publications.