I’m not crazy about Blockbuster’s (and most video stores’) decision in recent years to get rid of most of their old stock and focus heavily on new releases. That’s why I don’t casually visit video stores anymore.
But I gotta give my local Blockbuster credit for a daring (corporately speaking) innovation: They let employees rate new releases.
On a wall behind the counter, the ratings are displayed. Shaun, the guy manning the counter the other night, gave “Extract” (2009) a five out of 10. In other words, he was saying “Don’t rent this movie.” I appreciate that level of candor when it potentially means lost revenue, and since he seemed like an intelligent fellow with good taste, I almost didn’t rent “Extract,” even though I came in specifically to rent it.
It turns out that his rating wasn’t far off. I’ll give it a six out of 10, but that’s only because “Extract” is one of those movies that gets a lot better once you sit down to write a review. Mike Judge’s previous movie, “Idiocracy,” had a similar affect on me — as a concept, it’s brilliant; as a theme, it’s important … but I didn’t laugh.
Looking at Judge’s entire of body of work, I have to say I’m not quite a fan (and I’m sorry to say that, because I SHOULD be a fan). His TV work — “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “King of the Hill” and “The Goode Family” — never did it for me. “Office Space” is a masterpiece, of course, but “Idiocracy” and “Extract” fall into the category of interesting failures.
“Extract’s” cast is incredible, though. I was aware that the writing lacked an edge and the plot never developed serious momentum, and yet the characters made me smile. Jason Bateman, the king of straight men (in a comedy sense), plays the owner of a bottling company, and 10 years after “Office Space,” Judge shows that bosses can have a tough time of it, too. Then you’ve got J.K. Simmons as Bateman’s sardonic second-in-command, Ben Affleck as the wise bartender, Kristen Wiig is the wife, Dustin Milligan from “90210” as the pool boy, and Mila Kunis playing against type as the con artist.
I almost want to say “rent it” just because of the performances. But I’m not entirely sure what the point of the movie is, beyond being a Todd Solondz-esque exploration of secret lives that never lands its punchline.
I also rented “Paper Heart” (2009). Like “Extract,” it stars a talented “Arrested Development” alumnus — in this case Michael Cera — and I thought it might be an even-more-indie version of “(500) Days of Summer” in that it mulls the question of whether love exists. Ultimately, that question isn’t enough to sustain the movie.
Charlyne Yi, who has never experienced love, asks experts and random folks whether they think love exists. And if it does, what does it say about her that she’s not able to experience it? (Yi is seemingly the documentarian of “Paper Heart,” but actually this movie is the documenting of a fake documentary; the movie is co-written by Yi and Nicholas Jasenovec. Yi stars as “herself” — but she’s actually playing a character — and, to make matters more convoluted, actor Jake Johnson plays “documentary director Nicholas Jasenovec.” The real Jasenovec is the movie’s director. Whew.)
Cera comes in as “Michael Cera,” whom Yi starts dating while she’s still doing the “documentary.” Cera is his usual unpretentious self, but they should’ve cast an unknown here. It would’ve lent more credence to the realness of the supposed documentation.
The first half of the film is pretty good, as Yi interviews long-time couples who are in love, or people who have loved and lost (these are real interviews, even though the documentary doesn’t exist in the strictest sense). They all have different, but equally valid, views on love. She also interviews a brain scientist and a romance novelist. It seems clear that love does indeed exist, and while there’s no quick-and-easy definition of it, it can be defined in myriad, wordy ways.
Then the second half is generally about why Yi can’t experience love herself, even though she really likes Cera, and he really likes her. “Paper Heart” has no answer, and it just kind of stumbles to the finish line.
So I have to give “Extract” and “Paper Heart” the faint praise of being interesting failures. I’m not sorry I gave them a chance, but unless you’re a completist when it comes to “Arrested Development” actors’ post-“AD” work, you can skip them.