Knight at the Movies Archives
Mike Judge's returns - this time on the side of the boss, Renee Zellweger acts but doesn't look the part in a familiar road comedy
When I look back over the 2009 summer blockbuster season which is now officially over, it’s not the gut busters that I’m eager to
see again or that I’m recommending (with the vivid exception of
District 9 which only really fits in the category in retrospect – it’s like
“the little blockbuster that could”).  For me, it’s the “little” movies that sprouted up between the behemoths that have given
sustained pleasure this summer.  To this slate of winning pictures –
500 Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, Julie & Julia, and Taking
Woodstock – I am happy to add Extract, the first comedy from writer-director Mike Judge since 2006’s Idiocracy.

Extract follows the good but predictable life of Joel (Jason Bateman), the owner/operator of a small extract flavoring plant as he
deals with a number of pesky employee problems at work and tries to figure out a way to reignite his sex life with his wife Suzie
(SNL's Kristen Wiig).  Joel turns to his loopy bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) for a solution.  Dean, who offers sage advice while
chewing on Tums for a nervous condition comes up with a nutty scheme that Joel quickly jumps at.  Dean enlists another customer
Brad (Dustin Milligan), a blond tanned twink who looks as if he stepped out of an 80s gay porn and works as an amateur escort, to
pose as the new pool boy, seduce Suzie once and then break things off.  Suzie, Dean theorizes, will naturally then feel so guilty
she'll jump back into bed with Joel.  Brad, who is almost as stupid as the dumb stud played by Bill Paxton in Ruthless People, quickly
agrees and Joel, horny to the point of distraction, pays the freight that sets the scheme in motion.

As this scenario is playing out things at the factory which have been run smoothly are threatened when word leaks out that Joel and
his hard assed manager (J.K. Simmons) are in talks to sell the plant.  Then Joel is completely distracted when Cindy (Mila Kunis), a
gorgeous con woman enters his life.  Cindy quickly moves from a pseudo relationship with Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.) Joel’s injured
employee to making a play for Joel himself.  Primed for an affair (“How often am I going to meet a girl that’s pretty and into food
flavoring?” he wonders) and with problems stacking up like the boxes of flavoring extract when the employee’s stage a walk out,
Joel's world seems to be falling apart as quickly as the poor, love starved teacher played by Matthew Broderick in Alexander Payne’s
uproarious black comedy

But Joel, open hearted and fair minded though he is, isn’t exactly anybody’s fool and surprisingly, Judge’s viewpoint isn’t nearly as
cynical as Payne’s (or Judd Apatow’s either).  Though Judge’s script once again traffics in his trademark – finding humor in the
mundane – the little tics and annoying habits that drive people bat shit (many of the laughs come from the recognition factor in the
audience) – he’s never purposely mean spirited.  He just loves pointing out stupidity when he encounters it and does so hilariously
(his payoff to a running joke with an obnoxious neighbor played with relish by David Koechner is a highlight here).

Extract is in many ways an updated riff on those “wacky” wife swapping/Walter Mitty daydreamer comedies that were rife in the 60s –
stuff like
How to Murder Your Wife, Good Neighbor Sam, and A Guide for the Married Man (so many were released in the swingin’ 60s these
movies became a genre unto themselves).  From bad to sublime, they always featured crack comedic actors in the supporting roles
and most were carried by leading men like Jack Lemmon known for their Everyman qualities.  Judge’s cannily chosen supporting cast
and his star are another link to these movies.

Bateman’s specialty (and it’s a very winning one) is his ability to get along with anyone – to play the moderator and the arbitrator
between a lot of cranky, eccentric personalities – the guy whose job it is to relay the bad news, take the heat and then put the
positive spin on things.  He usually plays a variation on this kind of character, an archetype that provided his breakout in the defunct
though critically adored black comedy sitcom “Arrested Development.”  He is handsome but not too handsome – a realist with an
innate kindness which helps to soften him in the eyes of his audience.  Usually cast in supporting roles himself, his first appearance
in a movie always makes me perk up and in
Extract Bateman proves that he can carry a movie as expertly and as effortlessly as
Judge has in writing and directing them.


Though I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about Richard Loncraine’s (
My House In Umbria, Wimbledon, Firewall) vintage set road comedy
My One And Only as I am about Extract, it certainly has its amiable charms.  The film is based on a story that George Hamilton
told Merv Griffin about a summer he spent on the road as a teenager with his mother and brother.  Griffin, the closeted game show
entrepreneur and talk show bon vivant, so fancied the material that he worked for years developing it before his death in 2007 (his
company is listed as one of the producers).  After shooting the film last summer with a big name cast headed by Renee Zellweger as
the flirtatious mother, tiny Herrick Entertainment without much of a marketing budget, decided to forgo the direct to DVD route and
are giving the film a limited release ala
Bottle Shock.

The story is set in 1953 – Zellweger plays Anne Deveraux (nee Anne Hamilton Spalding), a glamorous southern belle and mother to
two teen aged sons, George (Logan Lerman of
3:10 to Yuma) and Robbie (Mark Randall).  At the outset of the film, Anne walks in on
her bandleader husband Dan (Kevin Bacon) cheating with yet another band singer.  Fed up, she packs her bags, cleans out the
couple’s safety deposit box, and instructs the 15 year-old George to buy a car.  He immediately settles on a baby blue Cadillac
convertible which instantly pleases mother when she shows up at the showroom.  After George has some driving practice throughout
the streets of Manhattan Anne tells the boys that they’re leaving their father and hitting the road with the intention of finding a new
meal ticket.

A series of adventures centered on Anne’s amorous activities ensues.  As the trio veer from one near success to disaster after
another, George loses patience with his self-indulgent mother while Robbie, the gay brother (who needle points and has dreams of
becoming a movie star) merely sighs, does as he is told, and makes witty, nasty remarks under his breath to George.  Eventually,
the threesome are forced to spend time with Anne’s hateful sister before heading to Hollywood to try and make a go of it there (and
perhaps, meet up with the sort of contrite Dan).

Anne, with her perfect manners, gorgeous clothes and Marilyn Monroe bouffant is part Auntie Mame, part Blanche Deveraux (the last
name is a nice coincidence) with shades of Jessica Lange’s Carly Marshall – the woman no man can resist from
Blue Sky – tossed in
for good measure.  The men who are drawn to this honey chile are played by a series of familiar TV hunks – Chris Noth, Steven
Weber, Eric McCormack – who are joined by David Koechner and Nick Stahl.

Loncraine, whose pictures haven’t exactly set any box office records or reached any particular critical heights either, keeps things
running smoothly while giving Zellweger plenty of room in which to create this latter day Scarlett O’Hara and for Logan to become
exasperated by her.  But though Zellweger lends great authority to the part – surely honed by her work in
Appaloosa, Down With Love
and the
Bridget Jones pictures – Loncraine can do nothing with a giant gaffe at the center of the picture which crops up again and

This is the rather large conceit that Zellweger, with her pinched looks emphasized by her squinty eyes and permanent pout, is
supposed to be portraying an irresistible beauty.  Repeatedly, Anne Deveraux is described as a knock out and we see the effect her
write home about beauty has on not just scores of men, but the ladies and little kids, too.  We’re talking movie star, drop dead
gorgeous beauty.  But Zellweger, whose career has relied on a series of endearing but wacky characters, can’t pull it off by any
stretch of the imagination and this flaw hangs over the movie, dampening its charms a bit (think way, way back to Bette Davis as
Mrs. Skeffington which suffered from this same fly in the cold cream).

The movie’s quaint, old fashioned template and characters may also put off the more antsy audience members - though that's a
plus for me and there’s all that period detail, a nice jazz score by Mark Isham, some quirky performances (and a beauty of one by
Zellweger even without the requisite lush looks), and other compensations to drive
My One And Only (which also could have used a
more original title) across the finish line for those who like their movies to stay out of the fast lane.
Guys & Doll:
Extract-My One and Only
Expanded Edition of 9-2-09 Windy City Times KATM Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*I screened My One and Only past my WCT deadline but in time for me to include it here