When I saw “Extract” this past weekend, I expected a movie about seemingly normal people caught up in situations that leads to morally compromising choices that no one in their right mind would entertain and someone dropping dead for no good reason. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a Hollywood genre that I like to call dysfunctional reality.
Small businessman Joel (Jason Bateman) finds himself stuck at work and an overly talkative neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner), that prevents him from getting home before 8:00PM, and, once his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), puts on her sweatpants, he is so out of luck in getting laid for that night. If that wasn’t bad enough, a larger company is offering to buy out his extract flavor factory, and his workforce is more interested in bickering with each other that accidents routinely happen. After one of his employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), loses a testicle in an extended accident that involves everyone on the line, a dysfunctional reality settles on Joel.
The movie starts with Cindy (Mila Kunis) at a guitar shop looking to buy a $3,000 USD guitar for her Dad’s birthday, and, once the two sales clerks are falling over each other to get something from the back room, she walks out the door with the guitar. At a nearby pawn shop, the clerk is throwing $20 USD bills at her when she tells him about how her poor Dad had just died. After glancing through her collection of Midwestern driver licenses, and reading an article about the factory accident with the realization that millions of dollars could be gain in a personal injury lawsuit, she gets a job at the factory to learn of Step’s home address to cozy up him and starts stealing personal items from everyone else.
Meanwhile, Joel confesses his martial problems to his bartender, Dean (Ben Affleck), who loads him with booze and a horse tranquilizer pill that’s supposed to be something else, and offers him devious advice about setting his wife up with a teenaged gigolo to pretend to be the pool cleaner to cancel out any the moral qualms about having an affair with Cindy. (Recycling the 1970’s answer to any problem with sex, booze and pills.) After sobering up with a killer hang over, Joel changes his mind only to discover that the gigolo had started early after recovering from his hang over and proven himself to be too effective. Now anger and guilt replaced the long suffering frustration to animate the conversations between husband and wife.
Gene Simmons of KISS fame plays a personal injury attorney, Joe Adler, who seems to be the only sane person in the movie when he explains vulgarly how the monetary value of a man with only one testicle is the holy grail of personal injury lawsuits. After Joel refuses to pay the holy grail number, the attorney offers to drop the suit in return for slamming Joel’s testicles in a door as adequate compensation for his Step’s loss. But even the attorney is not immune from this dysfunctional reality when Cindy sets him up to steal his fancy sports car and drives off into the sunset. I think Simmons performance rivals Meatballs’ performance as a strict fundamentalist father in “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny.”
Joel eventually figures out Cindy’s game, sleeps with her, goes about righting the wrongs of this dysfunctional reality, and reconciles with Suzie at the funeral of their talkative neighbor who keels over after she tells him off. You can’t have a dysfunctional reality movie without one person bumbling into his own death. Which is why “Extract” reminds me of “Burn After Reading” (which I hated) with the gym instructor accidentally shot dead by the Treasury officer who never fired his gun before, or “The Lady Killers” when a fallen criminal is tossed on top of a garbage barge passing underneath a bridge. When everything returns to normal, you have to wonder why these people put themselves through this in the first place.
This is the kind of movie that makes me glad that I have a normal, boring life with few moral complications. Then again, I’m a writer. All my characters suffer whatever stupidity that I can think of. Except I don’t think my imagination will ever be as twisted as what Hollywood is putting out with these dysfunctional realities.