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September 20, 2009

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Judge latest lacking in flavor

TEN years ago, Mike Judge satirized the absurdities of the workplace from the perspective of put-upon employees in "Office Space."

It didn't do much when it came out but, as we all know by now, it became a cult favorite on cable and home video, to the point where it changed the way you looked at the common stapler.

Now, Judge is back to the daily grind with "Extract," but this time the writer-director tells his wacky working tales from the boss's point of view: that of Jason Bateman's Joel Reynold, owner of a flavor extract factory.

It's doubtful that this comedy will grab its audience in the same way, though. Judge's characters are so one-note and their misadventures so ridiculous that it's hard to get attached to them or care about how they turn out.

Pretty much everyone in "Extract" is stupid, unlikable, self-destructive or all of the above -- and so there are no real surprises.

They include:

Step (Clifton Collins Jr), a doofus who prides himself on being the company's fastest sorter but dreams of being promoted to floor manager;

Cindy (Mila Kunis), a sexy but sociopathic con artist who weasels her way into Joel's factory with a scheme to make money from a serious accident;

Rory (TJ Miller), a pierced-and-tattooed goth rocker who's too busy handing out flyers for his latest show to do his job; and Mary (Beth Grant), an assembly-line worker who complains in a nasal twang about everyone else slacking, though she's the least productive of all.

As the person responsible for overseeing all these idiots and incompetents, Bateman functions in his patented exasperated everyman mode, similar to his Michael Bluth character in "Arrested Development," only without the smart, surreal dialogue.

Joel is proud of the company he founded but finds himself unhappy at work and thinking about selling to General Mills.

At the same time, his troubled relationship with his frosty wife Suzie (a thoroughly underused Kristen Wiig) at his Texas McMansion has him pondering thoughts about the flirty Cindy.

His best friend Dean (Ben Affleck), a suave bartender at a generic hotel sports grill, suggests Joel hire a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to sleep with Suzie, thereby giving him license to cheat on her with Cindy.

Dean is the latest example of Affleck's ability to breeze into a movie in a flashy supporting part, steal the scenes he's in and breeze back out again.

At the other end of the freak-show spectrum is Nathan (David Koechner), Joel's nerdy neighbor.

The scenes between Bateman and Koechner are cringeworthy but they also suggest the kind of movie "Extract" might have been if Judge had dared to throw in a little more flavor throughout, and not just relied on deadpan inanity.


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