Given that his new movie concerns a guy who owns a small company manufacturing flavor-extract food additives — cherry, vanilla, that sort of thing — you might wonder why writer-director Mike Judge didn’t call it “Flavor of the Month,” or something similarly zippy. But then the picture is very low on flavor (“Vanilla” would be a more descriptive title), so the usually astute Judge just called it “Extract,” and has now lobbed it out into the late-summer cinematic wasteland.
Jason Bateman plays Joel, whose little company (called Reynold’s, as if it were owned by someone named Reynold) is so successful that industry giant General Mills wants to buy it. The windfall from this sale would allow Joel to retire and devote more time to wheedling sex out of his uptight wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), who marks the approach of bedtime every night by donning a pair of tightly-knotted sweatpants.
So things are looking good for Joel — until he hires a little hottie named Cindy (Mila Kunis) to join his workforce. Cindy is actually a scam artist and thief who supports herself stealing wallets, handbags and any store merchandise left unattended in her presence. When a witless coworker called Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) is grievously injured in an accident on the factory floor (it relieves him of a testicle he really didn’t have to spare), she sees a golden profit opportunity, and steers Step into the arms of a toad-like personal-injury lawyer named Adler (Gene Simmons), who threatens Joel with a lawsuit so large it would bankrupt his company and scuttle the General Mills deal.
Complicating all of this is Joel’s infatuation with Cindy, which was instant the moment they met. Sexually deprived at home, he now longs to hook up with her. But he feels guilted-out in advance, and so decides that he can only go through with this if Suzie cheats on him first. To this end, with the help of a ’luded-out bartender friend named Dean (Ben Affleck, pretty funny) he hires a dumb-as-a-rock young stud named Brad (Dustin Milligan, even funnier) to take a pass at Suzie and see if he can get those sweatpants unknotted.
If I may inject a little spoiler here, this is not a satisfying structure for even a lightly romantic comedy: Brad succeeds in luring Suzie into bed — and more than once. The rationalization she later offers for this serial betrayal is limp and unpersuasive, and drains our goodwill toward the character. There are other problems, too. Considering the more-than-solid cast (which also includes David Koechner and J.K. Simmons, sharp as ever), the movie is awfully low on energy (and visual interest — the many dull-looking factory scenes are Sominex for the eyes). Random liveliness is provided by Milligan and Affleck; but while Bateman has used his naturally low-key charm to memorable effect in pictures like “Juno” and “Hancock,” here he’s given nothing fun to do (apart from a scene involving the world’s longest bong hit, which is mildly amusing, but overdone).
It’s unfortunate that the movie’s best scene, set in a guitar store, comes at the very beginning: It promises more in the way of comic invention than is ever subsequently delivered. And the picture ends not with a whimper but a yawn — leaving us hungry for something a lot tastier.
Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s review of “All About Steve,” also new in theaters this week.
MTV is taking you “Behind the Screen” on Friday, September 4, at 7 p.m. Tune in to check out exclusive clips from “Jennifer’s Body” and “Ninja Assassin,” your first look at “Clash of the Titans,” a special appearance by Rain and a revealing exclusive interview with Megan Fox.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Extract.”
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