Director Mike Judge's Office Space didn't do well at the box office, but it enjoyed a popularity and appreciation long after its release that continues to this day, particularly by cube dwellers who find solace in identifying and ridiculing the archetypal office workers. It can be a dark, uncomfortable movie in parts, but there's something almost uplifting about the end of Office Space.
Judge's latest movie Extract has only a few of the elements that make Office Space so great, though, and those elements are dramatically watered down. With the exception of Clifton Collins' character Step, who suffers a distressing injury on the job and whose bumbling good intentions make him hard to resist, there's not much heart to Extract. There are some funny moments for sure — mostly from the supporting cast — but overall it just feels soulless. For more of my thoughts on this, read more.
The story is set in another workplace, but this time we're in a factory and our main character Joel (Jason Bateman) actually likes what he does — owning and running the extract factory. He likes extract, and he has a sort of even mix of fondness and frustration for his employees on the floor. He dreams of selling the place and leaving behind the annoyances of running a business, but mostly his dissatisfaction stems from his home life where he never has sex with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig). He never talks to her about it, though, he just whines to his friend Dean (Ben Affleck) who dispenses alcohol, pills and bad advice in equal amounts.
One such piece of advice is to hire a gigolo to seduce Suzie so Joel will have no guilt about sleeping with his new hot temp, Cindy (Mila Kunis). Sure, Joel is heavily drugged when he agrees to the plan, but even when he comes to his senses he doesn't seem all that perturbed about it. Though he goes through a variety of experiences and emotions throughout the movie, Bateman's expression never wavers from basic tired exasperation. It's hard to ever tell what Joel is really going through here, which makes it hard to care.
Up until recently, I was a huge fan and supporter of Jason Bateman. I love it when a movie has just a dash of his specific type of funny (like Smoking Aces and State of Play), but when the side character played by Ben Affleck is funnier than Bateman's leading man (granted, Affleck's character is sillier all around), there's something wrong. Actually nearly every other character in the movie is more appealing and satisfying to watch than Bateman's Joel.
The supporting characters really are fantastic. Judge has a way of creating spot-on replications of the types of coworkers that we've all worked with. Office Space was full of them, from the passive-agressive boss to the overly chipper phone operator to poor old Milton who has focused his whole life on basically one thing (a stapler). Here in Extract, we've got the chatty Cathys who just gossip, complain and shift blame, and the punk kid who can't seem to retain any work-related information in his brain but manages to play in four different bands outside of work. And Joel's clueless, talkative neighbor Nathan (a pitch-perfect David Koechner) is one of the funniest and most painfully realistic portrayals in the film.
This is where I think Judge shines: in crafting characters that people can recognize, at least to some extent. There is a tremendous amount of comedy to be mined from these characters, and they add great flavor to the larger storyline following the average straight man. Problem is, it's pretty tough to like or sympathize with Joel so all we do is keep looking toward the other characters for some fun and relief. They deliver, but it's disappointing that the main storyline is so empty.