Like King of the Hill, Extract occupies that awkward, slightly icky space in the Mike Judge oeuvre between funny and miserable. The setting is a small-town flavor-extract plant, but the main character, Joel (Jason Bateman), might be Judge’s most white-collar creation to date. He’s the sexually frustrated, BMW-driving factory owner who describes a hot temp as “working class-looking.” Dissatisfied with his marriage, he accidentally takes some ketamine from his bartender friend (Ben Affleck) to cheer himself up. In a drug-induced haze, he hires a pool-boy gigolo to seduce his bored wife (Kristen Wiig) so he can cheat on her scot-free. The pool boy starts banging her recreationally, and the object of his affections (the aforementioned prole chick) turns out to be a slut grifter (Mila Kunis) whose only purpose in the film is to manipulate the testicles, literally and figuratively, of every man in town.
Mike Judge doesn’t sugarcoat his characters as anything more than slightly contemptible fratboys, a quality that makes his brand of comedy alternately liberating and frustrating. Bevis and Butthead and Office Space worked as Gen-X catharsis; audiences gleefully took out their own frustrations through characters who just didn’t give a shit. Joel’s mess is his own making, but like Bateman’s character on Arrested Development, he’s more bumbling and passive-aggressive than offensive. You’re never sure whether to hate him or just feel sorry for him. As a result, Judge’s schadenfreude feels misplaced and mean-spirited. By the time Joel saves the company from bankruptcy and pathetically claims that “extracts are what I do,” it’s not clear if Judge is making fun of the sad sacks who work the factory lines, their impotent yuppie boss, or the humdrum locale sucking all the life out of the film. Maybe that’s the problem: Mike Judge just hates everything.