‘Extract’ smart and affable but not laugh-out-loud funny

Posted Sept. 10, 2009, at 8:29 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

In theaters

EXTRACT, written and directed by Mike Judge, 89 minutes, rated R.

The new Mike Judge movie, “Extract,” stars Jason Bateman as Joel Reynold, a rich, likable schmuck having one of those weeks in which the breaks don’t come and the falls are steep.

His wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), won’t sleep with him; he finds himself under fire at the factory he owns when a mishap partially castrates a co-worker named Step (Clifton Collins Jr.); and he has a friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), who insists that he use all sorts of drugs, which over the course of the movie extracts from Joel’s life almost any chance of him getting it back on track.

Judge wrote the movie, which is the flip side of his funnier 1999 film, “Office Space.” Here, instead of the staff being pounded by life (they get their share of it, but they aren’t the focus), it’s the boss who must wade through a minefield of mishaps.

For example, while under the influence, Joel hires a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to sleep with his wife so he can feel better about putting the moves on Cindy (Mila Kunis), a saucy con artist who works at Joel’s factory, where she scams wherever she can.

One of the key people in her sights is Step, who initially only wants to settle out of court with Joel until Cindy befriends him, flirts with him, and then hires for him an aggressive lawyer (Gene Simmons, just right in the role) to take Joel down. Cindy’s idea is clear. She’ll coax Step into falling in love with her, and then she’ll take part of the millions he’s almost certain to receive.

About those millions: If Step wins his case, it will bankrupt Joel’s business, which is about to be bought by a large corporation. Or will it be, particularly given the pending lawsuit?

What ensues is smart and affable, but not laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the film’s brighter moments involve Joel and Suzie’s interactions with their nosy, nightmarish neighbor Nathan (David Koechner), who has nothing to do with driving the plot forward, but who is so good here, he still lifts the movie. So does J.K. Simmons as Joel’s screwy manager, and also Bateman himself, whose everyman performance is as grounded as the film’s direction.

Trouble is, a comedy shouldn’t be as grounded as this — you want it to fly. With “Extract,” you go into it hoping for keen, silly laughs — it does, after all, come from the creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill” — but instead, you come away feeling as if somewhere along the way, Judge also was neutered.

Grade: B-

On Blu-ray disc

THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN, directed by William Friedkin, written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel, 132 minutes, rated R.

In 1973, smack in the middle of a tumultuous political environment that saw the fall of a U.S. president and our country caught in the throes of war, came William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” a horror film like none other, which would go on to be denounced by Billy Graham, championed by the Catholic church, embraced by film critics and finally by the Academy Awards, where it won two of 10 nominations.

The film came during the last golden age of Hollywood — a time when it wasn’t rare for artistry to take precedence over box office receipts — and it was groundbreaking, a movie that shook audiences with its depiction of Regan (Linda Blair), a sweet 12-year-old girl whose soul is gradually — then violently — possessed by the devil.

“The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen,” recently released on Blu-ray with 11 minutes of additional footage, is about the discovery of one’s religious faith — that’s its core. Everything that happens to Regan — the head spinning, the projectile vomiting, the levitations, the infamous “spider walk,” those blasphemous, bloody plunges with the crucifix and her remarkably raunchy mouth (beautifully dubbed by Mercedes McCambridge) — is window-dressing.

This film isn’t so much about Regan’s transformation as it is about the transformation of her mother and the priest who eventually comes to help them.

Played superbly by Ellen Burstyn, Regan’s mother, Chris MacNeil, a popular movie star shooting a film on location in Georgetown, is a woman who finds herself caught between the concrete world of medical science and — to her — the more foreign world of religion, which she only turns to once she has sought the help of “88 doctors” and is desperate to try anything to save her daughter.

When it’s suggested to her that Regan should have an exorcism, Chris, stunned, turns to Father Karras (Jason Miller), a man fighting his own demons after his mother died alone in her home. With its relationships established, the film then becomes Chris and Karras’ journey into themselves, with Regan’s possession used as the catalyst for change and personal reawakening.

Besides the performances, which are uniformly strong, especially Linda Blair’s, which borders on brilliance (consider the range she displays as Regan), what’s so terrific about “The Exorcist” is how the film is in no hurry to get to the meat of its horror. It isn’t exploitative. First and foremost, it’s about its characters, people we come to care about before their lives are viciously torn apart on screen.

This is one of the reasons the film became a classic. Before Regan ever blew pea soup out of her mouth or flipped about on a bed, audiences had a strong sense of who she and her mother were. For those who believed in what they were seeing — and there were those in 1973 who absolutely believed — there was the lingering, creepy sense that this could happen to them. There is a real sense of terror in this movie, which was absent from the recent Rob Zombie disaster, “Halloween II.” Like so many of today’s “horror” films, that film only cared about the glitz (in this case, the butchering) while “The Exorcist” cared about what mattered — the story and those affected by it.

It changed movies forever and it remains an original.

Grade: A

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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