The Extract Experiment

Videodrome, my local video store, often features used DVDs at clearance prices. There was a copy of Mike Judge’s Extract for $3. I’m a huge fan of Judge’s film and television, so I Netflixed Extract upon its release, and truthfully, I was underwhelmed. But a friend who also enthuses upon Mike Judge loved it, and $3 was just right to give it another chance.

What happens when a company has no idea how to market a film.

What happens when a company has no idea how to market a film.

“I didn’t really get this one,” the clerk said as he rang up my purchase, “and I love his other stuff.” I told him a theory I’d read that Office Space was for the workers, and Extract was for the bosses, reflecting Judge’s ascent in the studio system. I also noted that Idiocracy was an impossible act to follow, and that it wasn’t well-received upon its (delayed) debut. I figured if I remained ambivalent about Extract, I could gift it to my friend.

After watching Extract for the second time, I decided to keep it.

After three times, I decided I loved it.

Mike Judge has been a dependable presence in American television since the 1990s. Beavis & Butthead ranks among the funniest animated cartoons I’ve ever seen; “Animation Sucks” stands as a titan of 20th century comedy. King of the Hill is the only time television treated the South as something other than a punchline, with an immortal cast of authentic Texans. No one is a mouthpiece for anything other than common sense, a theme throughout Judge’s career. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to hang out with his creations.

The majesty of Hank Hill, best TV dad ever.

The majesty of Hank Hill, best TV dad of all time.

I was dismayed by the treatment The Goode Family got in 2009. What I managed to see of it was hilarious, especially son Ubuntu, but ABC shuffled it around so much no one could find it, and it was axed after one season. It pops up on Comedy Central, but it’s considered Judge’s lowest-rated series. If it bowed on a network with balls, it might’ve found a foothold. King of the Hill, despite its high quality, had to battle cancellation for the last ten years of its run. This is why prime-time is wholly occupied by variations of The Gong Show like America’s Got Talent now. Remember when Howard Stern pulled the pin on his image and became a judge on AGT? How’d that work out for the “King of All Media”?

Another motif in Judge’s oeuvre; making unappealing people appealing. Everyone has their bad days, and nobody’s perfect. You might not be aware of this, but Milton Waddums of Office Space first threatened to set the building on fire in a short on Saturday Night Live. When Office Space came out, I was like “Wow, they made a whole movie about Milton.” Then I saw it, and Ron Livingston looked exactly like I did in 1999, and it bugged out my date.

Extract‘s characters aren’t as easily “catch-phrased” as the staff of Office Space; for the most part they’re more complex. Instead of an amnesiac Ron Livingston, Jason Bateman leads the cast as the sexually-frustrated Joel Reynolds, owner of the Reynold’s Extract company. Whereas in Office Space, I found the mall restaurant jobs and cubicle dwellers totally relatable, the sight of the extract factory took me back to my 1991 summer job at the worcestershire sauce plant. Right down to the stench. Wait- I meant that as praise.

That's how I had to dress at the music store, and that's just like where I bottled worcestershire sauce in '91.

That’s how I had to dress at the music store, and that’s just like where I bottled worcestershire sauce in ’91.

The employees of Reynold’s are so convincing that their jokes careen over your head disguised as regular conversation. On repeat viewings, I found hysterical punchlines hidden like depth charges. Every character gets one- even the ones who speak no English. Like Idiocracy, there are dozens of silent moments, hanging on a wordless facial reaction. This is one of Judge’s strengths, and it’s combined with a solid cast.

Jason Bateman is a guy I’ve seen on TV since he played Valerie Harper’s kid, first on her eponymous sitcom, then after she left and it became The Hogan Family. He was actually more likable than network-mate Michael J. Fox, but Fox got all the press. Bateman was one of the main reasons we thought Arrested Development was watchable (its timeslot did much of the heavy lifting, let’s be honest). So even though he’s a company boss with a wife and a big house, Bateman keeps Joel at a relatable level.

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Argo fuck yourself!

Ben Affleck reminds us why he’s a star, as long-haired bartender Dean. I never disliked Affleck; he’s an actor. He got in over his head and made a few stinkers. If you don’t come away from Extract liking Ben Affleck, I don’t know, man. I felt an immediate and burning desire to hang with him. He’s laid-back, generous with tranquilizers, and funny; what more could you ask for in a bartender?

If I had a “favorite Kristen Wiig movie”, Extract would be it. As Joel’s wife Suzy, she takes what could easily be a one-dimensional female foil- the frigid housewife- and makes it hilarious on multiple levels. All this she does in her trademark deadpan, and mostly either in sweatpants or a two-piece bikini. Her good looks work great for the character, in that it’s easy to feel Joel’s frustration at their lack of sex. If Wiig didn’t look like young Rosanna Arquette, we wouldn’t feel Joel’s pain when Suzy cheats with the beautiful yet stump-dumb gigolo Joel hired, to secretly test her fidelity. Even though she’s committed adultery, you look at her and think, what did Joel expect to happen?

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(Joel was under the influence of tranquilizers, given him by Dean, who thought they were Xanax. One fantastic scene is where Dean and Joel explain to Brad, the gigolo, the parameters of his assignment. Repeatedly. Joel’s reaction when asked if he will touch Brad’s ass is priceless.)

The spur that sets the movie’s plot in motion is Cindy, a preternaturally hot girl who casually commits all manner of larceny, much like Amber Benson in Spring Breakers. Cindy is played by Mila Kunis, a 10 who used to be on That 70s Show and does the voice of Meg Griffin on Family Guy. I come from a lifetime of careful study of hot girls, and let me impart a truism; they are analogous to nuclear weapons in their destructive power. When you see a girl who makes everyone in attendance go “DUH”, you are glimpsing one of the most powerful forces in nature.

When a girl is at a certain level of attractiveness, you hope to God she’s not evil. 

A hot girl with no conscience can’t be stopped, not even with anti-tank shells. She can only be destroyed by herself, by developing a conscience, or by another hot girl who has a conscience. If a hot girl cares nothing about lying to people, you will drown in her wake. She can not only kill you; she can make you cease to exist. Frank Miller’s A Dame To Kill For is a recent example, honed to a fine noir point.

Extract begins with Mila Kunis’ Cindy hustling a pair of douchebag clerks at Sam Ash (one is played to perfection by Hal Sparks). I caught this hustle once while working at Media Play, and literally all you can do is be mad at yourself for letting some girl fool you. You never hear stories about this kind of thing, because the mark is always too embarrassed to bring it up. No guy wants to admit that a hot girl only talked to him to get something.

Three of my all-time favorite actors are in this thing: J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, and Beth Grant. Simmons plays Brian, Joel’s subordinate, and I tell you this man could walk into an Office Depot and receive a paycheck. No other role I have seen Simmons play is present in Brian; in fact, I’m almost positive I worked with the guy at Media Play in 1996. His reluctance to learn any employee’s name, using instead the universal word “Dinkus”, is one of the film’s best running bits.

I’ll just say it; as of 2016, J.K. Simmons is my favorite actor. A version of his professor in Whiplash now resides inside my mind, screaming and slapping my face whenever I fuck up.

Without a doubt, the closest I've ever come to making wee-wee in my pants during a movie. Bravo times infinity, J.K. Simmons.

Without a doubt, the closest I’ve ever come to making wee-wee in my pants during a movie. Bravo times infinity, J.K. Simmons.

David Koechner is someone I’ve never met, and most people don’t recognize his name, but this dude has made me laugh around a billion times. He was the real pinch hitter of Anchorman, rather than Steve Carell. The bastards that took Run, Ronnie, Run! away from Mr. Show gave Koechner the unnecessary narration, and you can tell what he’s doing was funny before the editors gut-shot it. He made one of the darker eras of Saturday Night Live worth watching, and he was TV’s funniest feral redneck on the short-lived Naked Trucker & T-Bone.

In Extract, David Koechner is the most annoying neighbor imaginable.

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At first, you think Joel is being rude. Koechner’s Nathan seems nice enough. But he never listens. He has no concept of personal space, or respect for others’ time. When you watch Nathan’s scenes, and your teeth begin to gnash involuntarily as mine do, remember you are watching a scripted film and not reality. The final showdown between Suzy and Nathan is a dark throwback to classics like The In-Laws, and although it’s a touch outlandish, it wraps that plot up rather nicely.

Beth Grant is obviously a changeling who delights in morphing into exact Southern types. Without question, I worked alongside her character Mary at Media Play in the ’90s. When she sees the Mexican workers talking, she presumes they’re slacking off, and makes a huge show of doing the same. “They’re not gonna do their job, I’m not gonna do mine,” she crows, arms crossed, causing a massive chain of mishaps that culminate in the violent removal of the floor manager’s testicle. In her view, her presence in the factory is a privilege to the others, whom she finds contemptible. Grant paints a fully realistic portrait of a person utterly unaware of their own gross negligence. She has character-work skills and verisimilitude equal to Simmons.

Beth Grant and Lidia Porto. If I told you this was a photo of actual factory workers, wouldn't you believe me?

Beth Grant and Lidia Porto. If I told you this was a photo of actual factory workers, wouldn’t you believe me?

Gene Simmons of KISS guest-stars as unctuous TV abogado Joe Adler, a role that plays to his accumulated sleaziness. His best scene comes when he offers to drop the floor manager’s lawsuit against Reynold’s, if he can slam Joel’s nuts in a door. Adler refuses to let it go, bringing it up again and again, and it gets funnier every time, especially with Bateman’s withering reactions.

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Step Wilkinson, the caustically wounded floor manager, is played by Clifton Collins Jr., another actor I like a lot. He was killer Perry Smith in the excellent Capote (2005). Step is so fleshed-out by Collins he becomes a distinct sympathetic entity, much like King of the Hill‘s Boomhauer. As with the rest of the floor crew, Step isn’t a caricature; he’s a part of America’s vanishing working class, who’s proud of his post at the factory. Judge has a rare gift for breathing life into these folks, without mocking them. That’s why his movies and characters endure in audience’s minds for decades.

You would totally hang out with this dude and his dumb Pepsi-swilling brother.

You would totally hang out with this dude and his dumb Pepsi-swilling brother.

Some notes on Mila Kunis, if you’ll permit me:

  • She is exactly at the level of hotness that causes the manner of havoc shown here: screaming hot, but just barely gettable.
  • She is even hot at a distance of 100 feet, as shown from Joel’s office window.
  • A hilarious highlight is a wordless scene, made up solely of back-and-forth shots of Kunis’ eyes and a newspaper article about Step’s job accident. The pacing is so astute, and on top of the laughs from Kunis’ timing and Step’s photo, we get numerous close-ups of a truly beautiful pair of eyes. Ironically, one doesn’t even work!!!

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T.J. Miller, whom I saw reduced to a smoldering wretch in 2014’s Age of Extinction, plays Rory, a forklift journeyman in a grindcore band called God’s Cock. This is a great excuse to throw some death metal into the soundtrack, and Rory wears numerous t-shirts touting real bands, like local boys Mastodon. Miller is so deep in character that I didn’t recognize him until I rewatched the film. That’s no mean feat, being that he’s in a Transformers movie I’ve watched dozens of times.

That's Mike Judge with the green hat, in a stealth cameo you'd never catch if I hadn't spoiled it here.

Miller with Mastodon shirt, and Mike Judge with green hat, in a stealth cameo you’d never catch if I hadn’t spoiled it here.

The soundtrack features classic country songs by Johnny Paycheck, ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker, cementing the film’s working-class foundation. Extract has the same intangible authenticity as Judge’s other works; even if you don’t relate to Bateman’s boss, you’ll find someone in the cast to whom you will relate. Like many beloved modern comedies, there is a pot-smoking scene, one so believable it must have sprung from real life. Depending on your attitude towards marijuana, you will find yourself in the shoes of uptight Joel, old-hand Dean, or insane wild-card Willie, who just cannot believe someone won’t get stoned.

Willie is Paul Schulze, from Fast & Furious. I have both been subjected to guys like him and been him.

If you love Mike Judge, you’ll love Extract. If you didn’t love it, consider my experiment here. I didn’t think I liked it at first, and here I am over 2000 words and five viewings later, and I still left out the hilarious man-whore (Dustin Milligan). It’s well worth your attention.

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