Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movie Log: Extract

Some movies try to do too much, and some don't precisely try -- since that would be too much effort -- but definitely nod in more directions than they can manage to follow up on. Extract is one of the latter, a comedy that could be about labor relations, marital relations, friendship, sexual attraction, a semi-Randian view of the virtues of hard work and single-mindedness, criminality and deceit, or horrible neighbors. Instead, it's essentially about Joel (Jason Bateman) running away from things.

When things get difficult at the food-flavoring plant he owns and operates, he runs home to his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig). When Suzie doesn't immediately respond to his very ham-handed sexual overtures -- as she apparently hasn't done for several month now, and who can blame her? -- he runs off to the hotel bar run by his old buddy Dean (Ben Affleck). And when Dean has bad ideas, as his kind of best friend always does in comedies like this, Jason attempts to run from them, though not always quickly or successfully.

The plant is full of bad-employee stereotypes, from Latino immigrants who speak no English to self-important middle-aged women who know everything except how to get things done well, from a forklift driver who'd rather be playing melodic thrash metal to a redneck wannabe floor manager. The director and writer (both Mike Judge) play this for comedy, and use it to push our sympathy to Joel, the owner -- who is explicitly trying to sell out his operation to General Mills -- even though, as ther boss, he should be responsible for the tone and success of his operation. And things only get more complicated when a gorgeous con-woman, Cindy (Mila Kunis), shows up and sets her sights on whatever men she thinks are most likely to have some money.

Joel, frankly, is unwilling or unable to make any difficult decisions, or to do anything requiring sustained effort -- as I said above, he spends the movie running away from one thing after another,. though it's not at all clear that the movie realizes this. Extract plays as a series of separate scenes, all proceeding from a sub-set of the same large group of starting points, sometimes moving a particular sub-plot forward, but very rarely showing signs of cohering as a single movie. Extract is one story because Joel is in nearly all of the scenes, and the other scenes mostly show the effects of actions that Joel made. But it doesn't quite become a single story, and it doesn't entirely cohere.

Extract is a pleasant movie, and a funny one much of the time. But it spends ninety minutes looking like it's about to develop a point of view and something to say, but never does.

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