Stephen Ruiz shares his undying love for the work of Mike Judge in his new look at the semi-underrated and poignant Extract.
From my adolescence to present day, there has been a consistent group of artists who have always spoken to and inspired me—Mike Patton, Chris Cornell, Trey Parker, Chuck Palahniuk, and Mike Judge. I first discovered Mike Judge when most people did; the rise of Beavis and Butt-Head. My parents hated it. My teachers hated it. I even had an uncle who told me that watching it would indoctrinate me with heavy metal culture and make me murder small animals. He’s in prison now, but I digress. I loved Beavis and Butt-Head, but when I was 14, a large part of me knew that the grown-ups were right. It was really stupid, had no artistic merit, was poorly animated, and said nothing meaningful. I was too young to realize how subversive and complex the show truly was.
My love of Mike Judge has continued in much the same way. I’ve enjoyed everything he’s ever done, but I was exposed to all of it too early. I laughed at Office Space in high school, but it wasn’t until years later that I worked as an engineer in corporate America that I truly appreciated it. I marveled at the absurdity of Idiocracy without having the perspective to know how dumb some subset of our society would become.
Extract is no different for me. I loved this movie during its initial theatrical run, but many of the levels on which I was unable to appreciate it still escape me. At its core, Extract is the story of man trying to find contentment with his life and his empire. Joel Reynolds is a man who has all the outward markers of a successful life—a gorgeous home, a beautiful wife, and financial security. Despite his many blessings, he is miserable.
Jason Bateman portrays Joel, a brilliant chemist who devised a method for producing food flavoring with a high boiling point. He parlayed this breakthrough into a successful food extract business. Joel sees his extract factory as something of an oasis, a refuge from the unsatisfying aspects of his life.
Joel’s wife Suzie is the source of his greatest frustration. Since Joel’s marriage lacks passion, he looks for counsel and wisdom in the form of this guy.
Ben Affleck plays Dean. He may not look the part, but Dean is a licensed and board-certified therapist with a successful marriage counseling practice. Just kidding. Dean is the bartender at the sports bar at a nearby chain hotel. Dean serves beers and other libations, but he also offers relationship advice, Xanax, cannabis, horse tranquilizers, and male prostitutes.
One day, a string of inauspicious events threatens the fortress that is Reynold’s Extract. A perfect storm of factory workers neglecting their duties at the same time leads to Step, one of Joel’s employees, suffering a testicular injury from a piece of flying debris. What was once a successful business with a lucrative offer from a buyer with big pockets had become another source of consternation for Joel.
Step’s misfortune and impending insurance windfall attract the attention of Cindy, a local con artist. She decides to pursue a lucrative career as a temp at Reynold’s Extract. Cindy sweetens the pot by professing her unabashed admiration for the food flavoring industry and openly flirting with the boss.
Cindy uses her feminine wiles to lower Joel’s guard and steal Step’s contact information. She finagles a meeting with Step and begins hatching her plan to inspire him to sue Joel. Acting solely out of delusion and the interest of his last remaining testicle, Step goes against his convictions and decides to sue Joel with the help of ambulance chaser, Joe Adler.
Blissfully ignorant of the threat of financial ruin, Joel returns to Dean to tell him about the pretty new girl at work who he thinks likes him as more than a friend. Fueled by horny dude logic and horse tranquilizers, Joel decides to hire Brad, Dean’s male sex worker friend, to have sex with Suzie, thereby absolving him of his guilt in pursuing Cindy.
To the chagrin of Joel, he is unable to come to his senses and call off the gigolo in time. He is dismayed to learn that their drug-induced sex heist was executed to perfection. Though angry with Suzie, he redoubles his efforts to bed Cindy, by meeting her at a gig starring Rory, one of Joel’s employees.
Joel not only fails with Cindy, but earns a black eye from her boyfriend in the process. Undeterred, he continues to pursue her. In the process, Joel learns that Cindy is the reason for Step’s sudden onset of litigiousness. He also learns that Cindy was the one responsible for the petty thefts in the factory. When he confronts her, they not only share an embrace and spend the night together, but Joel finds the brigand’s heart. When he wakes up, he sees that Cindy is gone but has left him completely unrobbed.
The end of the film sees Joel begin to rebound from rock bottom. He returns to the factory and tells the team that he is no longer considering selling the business and that his door is always open. He also reflects and begins to make amends with his wife following their foray into infidelity and prostitution.
Extract is perhaps the least appreciated piece of work on Mike Judge’s resume, but it deserves to be. That isn’t to say it isn’t deserve a watch, but Judge has largely made Extract obsolete. Mike Judge tells the sympathetic story of a man who has little more than a business that he built from scratch, struggles mightily in most other aspects of life, and constantly has to ward off those who would sunder his empire. If you want that tale, Mike Judge has since told it better.
In short, Extract describes two struggles for Joel. The first is doubt in his marriage. Anyone who has been married for longer than 45 minutes can relate to that conflict, but there is almost no meat left on that cliché bone. The other struggle speaks only to those people who have had the courage to build something from scratch without a safety net. That audience is far too small to make a dent in the box office.
I can personally relate to the former. While I never got ripped on ketamine and hired a prostitute, I’m a man and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve never founded a business, but over the last few years, I’ve explored my creative side. Having written a novel, an opera, and a few dozen rounds for America’s largest pub quiz company…
…I understand the anxiety of having your creation scrutinized. Every time I hear that an editor or a customer took issue with a question I write, I weep a little inside (and sometimes outside). I understand the paranoia and the fear that come with the thought of others capitalizing on my work at my expense. It is in this way that Extract has become most poignant for me. I could be successful without ever taking a chance and embracing the part of me that always wanted to write and create. I only hope that one day I become like Joel Reynolds, the creator of something so great that people try to rip me off.
Come at me.
— Stephen Ruiz