Like comedian Steven Wright says, "There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot."
Mike Judge, in his minimum-affect motion picture Extract, walks that line. Sometimes his characters - Jason Bateman as a flavor-extract factory owner, Kristen Wiig as his wife, Ben Affleck as an advice-slinging barkeep, and Mila Kunis as a sexy grifter - are casting the lines out and pulling in the, er, jokes. And sometimes they just seem to be standing there, not exactly idiots, but not anyone to care about, either.
Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-head (remember that quaint 20th-century duo?), the animated series King of the Hill, the sly workplace comedy Office Space, and the little-seen but cult-spawning Idiocracy, definitely shows his penchant for deadpan drollery in Extract. But sometimes things can be too deadpan: Bateman's Joel Reynold, lamenting the lack of a sex life with his wife, Suzie (Wiig), confides to his friend Dean (Affleck) and gets little more than a shrug in response. If Preston Sturges is famous for his breakneck-pace screwball farces, Judge's Extract is let's-not-even-break-a-sweat.
But then, Extract's matter-of-fact nuttiness starts to take over. A ricocheting mishap in Reynold's Extract plant results in a worker injury, which causes the comely con artist Cindy (Kunis) to start thinking lawsuits and marriage, which brings in a sleazeball personal-injury lawyer (Gene Simmons, of Kiss), which jeopardizes the corporate buyout of the family-owned factory, which threatens 1) the employees' job security, and 2) Joel's early-retirement plans.
And then there's a whole hire-this-male-prostitute-dude-to-have-sex-with-your-wife scenario - morally dubious, to be sure, but rife with narrative possibilities. Bateman and Wiig are gifted comic actors who can easily steal a movie out from under their co-stars, but here the two are working in such flat and restrained tones that the humor gets tamped down - making Extract a comedy working at cross-purposes.
It's also a comedy in which just about everybody does something ethically troublesome: lying, adultery, theft. The movie stops short of murder, but there is a corpse (and if you can be killed by a rant, then maybe it is a case of homicide after all).
A mix of coolheaded cultural satire and anxiety-inducing workplace and marital shenanigans, Extract is an odd project. It's smarter than most of the comedies out there right now, but that doesn't necessarily make it funnier.