Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Work Sucks - Extract vs. Office Space

This past Labor Day weekend, Mike Judge “headed back to work” when he released his new movie Extract. Watching Extract, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between it and Judge’s cult classic, Office Space.  Extract is the blue collar companion piece to the white collar Office Space; however, for its lead characters, Extract can basically be seen as the domesticated hell response to Office Space’s nine-to-five angst.

Released in 1999, Office Space died a quick death at the box office only to gain a strong cult following when it hit VHS and DVD. Now you can barely find a person in the world who doesn’t know about Gary Cole’s extraordinary performance as Bill Lumbergh and his constant hounding of Peter (Ron Livingston) about his TPS reports. Office Space, with its unforgettable set of characters and hilarious circumstances, really tapped into white collar hell. We don’t know much about the lead characters in Office Space; all we know for sure is that they really hate their jobs.

Extract tells the story of Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman). Having built his Reynolds Extract business from the ground up, Joel is in final negotiations to sell his company to General Mills. Joel’s plan is to cash out and to retire young. While Joel is the professional embodiment of the American dream, his personal life is in complete shambles. He hasn’t had sex with his wife in three months, and the lack of passion in his marriage has messed with his better judgment.

Joel is instantly attracted to the sexy new temp at the plant, Cindy (Mila Kunis). How could a woman this beautiful be interested in food flavorings? It turns out that Cindy is too good to be true and that she is a con artist/thief. Cindy isn’t interested in Joel, she is interested in getting information on Joel’s ex-employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) who was injured on the job and is now going to receive a large settlement.

Joel’s best friend, Dean (played brilliantly by Ben Affleck) advises him that he should have an affair with Cindy. His advice to Joel is that in order to have an affair with Cindy, he has to do it with a clear conscience; by finding someone to sleep with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wigg). Joel, of course, thinks that this is a terrible idea; that is, until Dean gives him a horse tranquilizer and the biggest, best bong hit in cinema history. That evening with Joel, Dean hires his gigolo friend, Brad (Dustin Milligan), to work as Joel’s pool cleaner, so he can seduce Joel’s wife. Before Joel can sober up and change his mind, it’s too late.

The characters in Extract are basically slight variations of their Office Space counterparts. Joel is essentially Peter from Office Space, if Peter had become really interested in food flavorings, went back to college, created an amazing extract, married his girlfriend, moved into a nice suburban home, and ran his own business. Joel’s best friend, Dean, is basically a slightly older version of Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) from Office Space if Lawrence had really become a connoisseur of pharmaceuticals. Subbing for the boss, Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, who was always stating the obvious while being completely oblivious, is the annoying and completely oblivious neighbor, Nathan, in Extract.

I don’t feel that Extract will stand the test of time the way Office Space has. With the current state of the economy and the countless number of layoffs across the country, Office Space is as relevant now, if not more so, than it was 10 years ago. When Peter and his co-workers decided to rip off the company, this actually felt justified. People were getting laid off for no reason and with no remorse. I mean, they moved poor Milton’s desk down to storage B and stopped giving him a paycheck.

The main problem with Extract is that the motivations of the lead characters don’t feel as justified as the characters in Office Space. It was easy to identify with the characters in Office Space because they were basically good-hearted people with jobs they hated.. In Extract, Joel and Suzie both make unforgivable decisions in their marriage. Cindy is a con artist and opportunist, Step is misguided and dumb, and Dean is well. . .Dean. In Office Space, Bill Lumbergh was annoying and hilarious. In Extract, Joel’s neighbor, Nathan, is really just annoying.

On its own terms, however, Extract is a decently funny movie. The bottom line is that Mike Judge knows comedy, and Extract has a lot of funny moments. Most of the funny moments come from Ben Affleck’s scene stealing, pill popping, pot smoking, Dean. Ben Affleck hasn’t been this much fun on screen since he enjoyed having sex with women in uncomfortable places in Mallrats, or when he hazed freshmen with a paddle in Dazed and Confused.

The main theme between both of the lead characters in Extract and Office Space is happiness. In Extract, Joel is looking for happiness in his personal life, and in Office Space, Peter is looking for happiness in his professional life. What both characters soon realize is that happiness, like their jobs, takes a lot of work.

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