With movie comedies increasingly dominated by loser men-children, scatological stunts and more F-bombs than shore leave, you've got to appreciate the comparatively gentle humor of Mike Judge. The writer/director's latest offering, "Extract," doesn't pummel viewers for laughs, eliciting guffaws " well, smiles, at any rate " from character-driven situations.
If only it were funnier.
Don't get me wrong. "Extract" has its funny moments. Judge is adept at mining humanity's propensity for idiocy, but his satirical jabs work best in the periphery of his story lines, playing on the indignities we come across daily " the boss who refuses to learn his employees' names, the neighbor who won't leave you alone. They might not be quite enough to sustain a feature-length film, but they reveal "Extract" at its most inspired.
Joel (Jason Bateman, "Hancock") owns a small company that produces flavoring extract " vanilla, cherry and the like. By all rights, he should be reveling in his good fortune. He has a nice house, drives a BMW, and General Mills wants to buy his business. But he is not happy. His workers run the spectrum from cranky to inept. His home life is just as frustrating Workaholic Joel hasn't had sex with wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig, "Adventureland"), in months; if he isn't home by 8 p.m., she tightens the drawstring on her sweatpants and shuts down for the night.
Then a beautiful new worker, Cindy (Mila Kunis, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), expresses interest in how he started his company. Joel is smitten with her, but knows that infidelity would weigh heavily on his conscience. His bartender pal, Dean (Ben Affleck, "State of Play"), helpfully offers a solution: Hire a gigolo to pose as the new pool cleaner and seduce Suzie, thereby absolving Joel of any guilt and freeing him to pursue Cindy.
It's a moronic plan, to be sure, but Joel agrees after an evening of booze and (inadvertently) horse tranquilizers. He reconsiders the next day, but by then, it is too late. The gigolo, Brad (Dustin Milligan, TV's "90210"), has already been wildly successful. And Cindy, who is a con artist, has no designs on her boss. Instead, she is busy cozying up to another fellow factory worker (Clifton Collins Jr., "Star Trek") who stands to gain millions of dollars in a wrongful-injury lawsuit against Joel.
Satirizing dumbness comes easily for Judge, who did so most famously with MTV's old "Beavis and Butt-Head" series. Extracting plausible motives and behaviors, however, prove more difficult. For a movie about men longing for the company of women, "Extract" has no credible female character. Wiig is a terrific comedic actress, but she has little to do as bland Suzie, other than immediately jumping into the sack with brainless Brad. Kunis fares slightly better, since her primary task is to look like Mila Kunis.
"Extract" has some memorable turns. Bateman, Affleck and Milligan are all winning in their roles, but what you might remember most are the small bits that fill the margins of this workplace comedy: Matt Schulze as a gung-ho pot dealer, Gene Simmons as a sleazy lawyer and David Koechner as Joel's