Out of Flavor

While I’ve never seen Mike Judge’s Office Space, its status as a cult classic had me psyched to check out his new film, Extract.

Jason Bateman standing in front of scores of cases of Reynold's Extract
Still from Extract © 2009 Miramax Films.

I think I’d also carried in high expectations due to the presence of Justin Bateman,
as well as somehow confused the movie on a broad level with Steven Soderbergh’s latest flick. Extract could refer to the precision removal of, say, CIA operatives or civilian assets who’ve gotten themselves into a dangerous situation — as Matt Damon’s character apparently does in Soderbergh’s The Informant to humorous effect. Here it refers to flavor essence, as in vanilla extract, the niche business of Bateman’s Joel Reynolds.

Bateman has been excellent in work as diverse as Juno, Arrested Development, and Hancock, but despite fine performances from Extract’s cast — which delightfully includes both J.K. Simmons and Gene Simmons of Kiss — there’s not much there there. Joel tries to manipulate his wife, played by Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig, into cheating on him so that he has an excuse to then get it on with Cindy, played by Mila Kunis of That ’70s Show and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, at the suggestion of his friend Doug, played by Mallrats’ Ben Affleck. Even though Joel’s under the influence when the plan is actually put into action, said plan is still one of the movie’s twin pillars; the other is Cindy’s actions as a grifter, which affect Joel’s company for the worse, so it’s not as if Joel and Cindy are pitched as star-crossed lovers.

The imperfections of humanity and general messiness of life are fine story engines,
yet tricky for a dramedy, especially one like Extract that offers little actual drama or comedy. From the television spots I was expecting mordant humor and visual inventiveness on the order of Thank You for Not Smoking, the very good directorial debut of Jason Reitman. Based on advanced reviews from Telluride and Toronto, it looks like Reitman’s next effort, Up in the Air, starring George Clooney and featuring Bateman, will be delivering on that front. I haven’t gotten to write about most of the films I watched this past year, but just among those recently caught up with at home
I’d recommend Adventureland, State of Play, and City Island over Extract.

I should probably get around to Office Space.

Related: A ’Ship at Sea Paris Review Life, the Universe, and Everything

No comments:

Post a Comment