Mike Judge has something to live up to with his new comedy Extract, if the testimonial of an audience member during Saturday night's Q&A following a preview screening at the American Cinematheque at the Aero was anything to go by. Without naming the expert in question, the fellow pointed out that a professor of his at USC had declared Judge's 2000 cult classic Office Space to have been the most important work of social commentary since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The director quite humbly seemed to laugh and shrug the comparison off, but sociopolitical underpinnings aside, it's hard to underestimate just how much his work has come to mean to comedy fans.
Extract might at first seem a return to form for Judge in that it shifts from the broader, hypothetical social satire of Idiocracy back to the mundane workplace angst that made Office Space such a big sleeper hit following its brief theatrical run. Not wanting to repeat himself, of course, he decided early on that this film would be told from the boss's point of view — something he himself had never experienced until Beavis and Butthead took off on MTV in the '90s. (“Suddenly I had 30 or 40 people working for me,” he marveled, still seeming slightly incredulous all these years later.) The result is another shrewd study in masterful comic timing, with an impressive ensemble headed by Jason Bateman as the beleaguered owner of a food extract factory. Not to mention Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, JK Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr., Dave Koechner, Beth Grant, a fantastically shaggy Ben Affleck (surely his best character work since Dazed and Confused — yes, really) and, in a stroke of casting genius, Gene Simmons as a skeezy ambulance-chasing lawyer. (Not to imply that the film isn't damn good all around, but it's worth seeing alone for the fake commercial en Español in which Gene bellows “ACCIDENTES?!” Hilarity.)
The post-screening question and answer session delivered some choice anecdotes on the film and Judge's other work, such as:
Even when the script is good, there's room to improvise: And as Judge discovered, SNL's Emmy nominee Wiig is one of the best. Toward the end of the film, the actress (as Bateman's wife) finally unleashes her pent-up rage at their irritatingly clingy neighbor (Koechner). “I think every line except the first one [she improvised]…. I just told her to go nuts,” said the director. (It's a highlight of the film, particularly the decisive blow about not knowing what Koechner's Nathan is barbecuing over there all the time, “but it STINKS!!”)
The boneheads who put you on the map are hard to leave behind: When a fan asked whether or not Judge still had any inspiration to revisit Beavis and Butthead, Judge pointed out, “I can see them [as teenagers] and I can imagine them when they're, like, in their sixties. Not so much in between.” He noted that the characters are still his favorite and most proud accomplishment, and that he had hit upon an idea to write something recasting them as tech support guys. (Oh, the nightmarish comic potential…) They are also close enough to his heart that they still plague his dreams on occasion. Judge even busted out the voices to reveal that the two would pop into his head manifesting his anxiety about how the Extract would turn out. (Butthead: “This sucks!”; Beavis: “Yeah, heheheheh, it's not going anywhere!”)
And if you really want to defy expectations, flip 'em with a period piece: Judge may excel at capturing the comedy of the absurdly everyday and sublimely dim-witted, but lest he fall into the trap of becoming too specialized a voice, his next project promises to really defy expectations. He'll produce a film written by partners Dave Krinsky and John Altschuler based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Napoleonic wars tales Brigadier Gerard. Don't be too shocked, though — it's still going to be funny. “[The main character] is sort of like Inspector Clouseau, he's actually written that way,” Judge explains, cracking a smile as he describes the vain yet inept protagonist of Doyle's satire of English perceptions of the French. Apparently, some big names are interested in the script. And so are we… very.