And that’s not even mentioning Judge’s animated work. “Beavis & Butt-head,” as a series and as a full-length movie, was a high water mark for sublime crudeness that also rang very, very true. And “King of the Hill,” if not as raucous a phenomenon as “The Simpsons,” edges out that more widely respected competitor in the contest for the most emotionally authentic animated portrait of a family that television has ever aired.
It’s a little unexpected to think that the man responsible for two defiantly one-dimensional, nattering pinheads named Beavis and Butt-Head, as well as a vision of the future where the popular imagination is enthralled by an entertainment called “Ow! My Balls!” could be a maestro of the authentic, but after watching “Extract,” I’m now convinced that Mike Judge is just that.
Stop Me If You’ve Met This One Before
The thread that runs through all of Judge’s works might be called ‘breakthrough familiarity.’ He has an uncanny ability to render characters on the screen who are resoundingly common to real life, but seem shockingly uncommon when viewed on the screen. Stephen Root’s mumbling man-child (the one preoccupied with his red stapler) in “Office Space” was a broad caricature, but he was also immediately recognizable to any of us who’ve toured the crevices of the corporate workplace. Similarly, watching Hank Hill and his inertia-less entourage standing about in Arlen, Texas feels like pulling over curbside to chat with neighbors one typically drives past. What makes these and so many of Judge’s characters so resonant is that they mark the onscreen debut of people that we practically know but have always assumed would be excluded from popular media.
This is the stuff that “Extract” is made of, too. Like “Office Space,” it too is a character study of a company, an inventory of the varied oddballs that pass in and out of a working environment that itself threatens to consume its main character.
Right: Owning up. Jason Bateman as the put-upon entrepreneur in “Extract.”
This time though the setting is decidedly more blue-collar, and the problem is not anonymity, facelessness or the slow sapping of humanity. Rather “Extract” looks at the opposite challenge of what happens when things become too personal, too intimate, when a business is not a company but a family. Judge’s protagonist, an excellent Jason Bateman, is a manufacturer of flavor extracts, and his consuming frustration is his inability to de-personalize his relationships; he wants to sell his company to a conglomerate, remove himself from the day-to-day refereeing of petty squabbles, revoke small talk privileges for an overly friendly neighbor, and even neutralize his connection with his wife — he wants to extract himself from everything. Naturally everything in his life conspires against him in this. Hilarity ensues.
Unfortunately, while it’s cut of the same cloth, “Extract” is not quite the subdued masterpiece that his prior two live action features were. Judge’s predilection for lingering with characters he’s obviously fond of gets the better of him, and the movie fails to achieve enough momentum to really get anywhere. Meanwhile, he commits the sin of underutilizing two of his stars, the incisively deadpan Kristen Wiig and the increasingly likable Mila Kunis. If only he’d lingered a little longer with those two.
Still, if Judge’s main crime here is that he overindulges with screen time for likable characters, it’s with good reason: the characters are very good, and very funny — frequently laugh-out-loud funny. This is mostly because, as I’ve been belaboring here for too many paragraphs, they tend to ring true. The best of the movie’s characters are lovingly, indelibly rendered, familiar yet brand new, and well worth watching. They made me think that, next time a Mike Judge movie is released, I won’t be so lackadaisical about getting out to see it before it disappears.