Extract & Idiocy’s Judge

Ternion Pictures

STARRING Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, J. K. Simmons, Clifton Collins, Jr., Dustin Milligan, David Koechner
PRODUCED BY Mike Judge, John Altschuler, Mike Rotenberg, Glenn Lucas

SHOT BY Tim Suhrstedt
EDITED BY Julia Wong
MUSIC BY George S. Clinton

Screened 2009-08-13

“Idiocy’s Judge”

It appears that Mike Judge is convinced he is surrounded by indecipherable, oblivious idiocy, and seems to think he has no recourse but to inevitably howl along with the madmen. On one hand I can’t blame him – on the other Judge may speak their language a bit too well. Judge crystallized two-dimensional idiocy with 90’s archetypes B & B and after their film aimed his repulsion at interchangeable American offices, yielding further superficial passing chuckles. Idiocy itself was his next subject with still another everyman in the spotlight. Which brings us to Extract, certainly his most inane work. The doctor is one step closer to joining the patients.

Jason Bateman’s character owns a modest little chemical extract plant peopled by working class doofuses who daily bring the company to the precipice of ruin through sheer obliviousness to their duties. One worker (Clifton Collins Jr.) loses a testicle in a Rube Goldberg-styled accident caused by the baffling insensibility of the employees – however, being ‘pussified’ by the loss he passively desires to take no litigious action against his employer until, that is, he is manipulated into doing so by a perky criminal drifter (Mila Kunis). The considerably more ridiculous other half of the story involves Bateman’s sexual frustration by his wife, Little Miss Sweatpants. Bateman begins to lust after Kunis but cannot cheat without guilt. Friend Ben Affleck suggests siccing a male prostitute on Bateman’s wife, thereby creating a scenario of ‘mutual adultery’ in which no party can be more guilty than the other. Bateman, as reasonable a person as can exist in Judge’s universe, balks until his reason is compromised by Affleck’s continuous narcotic influence. This is the crux of Extract (a wholly undemonstrative title): man wants to cheat, makes things worse by using drugs, works it out without learning anything and ends up correctly communicating with his wife again by sheer accident.

Jason Bateman’s finely honed deadpan talents and timing make him the most charming and watchable of Judge’s anymen, and this charm carries a great deal of what is otherwise a directionless, anecdotal series of gags. The reasonably talented supporting cast does a fine job buoying as much of the film as they can: Clifton Collins Jr.’s consummate enjoyment of acting – and hamming – makes me think of a person relishing a popsicle in public. Ben Affleck plays perhaps his most believable role as a flaky airport bartender who solutions to life’s problems – any of them, including the sniffles – consist of ingesting hard drugs. And Mila Kunis never imagined her sex appeal would take her so far. Half of the film passed before I stopped laughing altogether, as I realized no momentum was being created, and really, I had only been laughing at pretty lowbrow gags; ex: one employee belongs to five terrible metal bands with names as ridiculous as “God’s Cock.” I can’t deny that this elicited a genuine laugh, and that such satire may be Judge’s most potent penetration.

Judge seems to me to be bogged down by conventional narrative, and his work could take on a new level of free-form zaniness if he made his own rules. In Office Space, Idiocracy and Extract, Judge’s everyman protagonists live by the rules of others while carrying rather heavy chips on their shoulders. They are terrified of being disliked and will put up with astounding levels of insensitivity so as not to offend the very people they cannot stand. They become so petulant in their pretentious patience and eventually throw vitriol tantrums when it runs out. Office Space is the best example of a man who learns to live happily by his own rules. But I do not see that Judge has truly learned this lesson, and it will be a dominant motif in his work until he does. His reliance on conventional narrative creates the same depreciation of momentum, as if fidelity to story itself is his problem. For Judge, less story means less waiting to get to his cynical satire and toilet humor, which, let’s be honest, is why we watch him and what he does best – see case studies ‘Beavis and Butthead’ and ‘King of the Hill.’ What are they about? Watching music videos on a couch, and living an unglamorous but decent life far from bright lights big cities. Films, however, are bigger and more expensive and more is expected and perhaps they should be watched in big cities where everything else is proportionally as big as the screens. And for these, Judge isn’t going far enough. I suppose I can’t entirely blame him. If I were Mike Judge, I’d also check myself when I caught my laughter taking on the guttural guffaw of the damned idiots.

written by David Ashley