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Extract: God Bless The Annoying Next Door Neighbor

Mike Judge is the king of the annoying minutiae of the every day. Extract never takes off, because it stays far closer to conventional comedy than his previous two films, which isn’t Judge’s forte. However, there is one brilliant, purely Judgeian creation– Nathan, the nosy next-door neighbor, played with glee by David Koechner. In a cast where most actors are in familiar territory or aren’t as comfortable with Judge’s humor-in-repetition comedy style, Koechner excels and elevates the comedy to brilliance every moment he scampers onto the screen. When a character earns every one of the film’s biggest laughs, you know it’s inspired writing. The downside is that you know the rest of the film is uninspired, creating mere smiles and chuckles where Koechner gets guffaws.

Joel (Jason Bateman) is a bartender turned extract plant owner who seems to have it all. Except his wife (Kristen Wiig) hasn’t had sex with him in months. And his workers fight with one another constantly. And his #2 man (J.K. Simmons) can’t remember anyone’s name. And his best friend (Ben Affleck) has no good advice except for “Take drugs.” And Lord knows his neighbor Nathan (the aforementioned Koechner) won’t leave him alone. Things look up when General Mills expresses interest in buying out the company, but when an accident leaves a floor worker named Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) without… one of his nether region organs, everything threatens to fall apart. On top of it all, Cindy (Mila Kunis), the sexy new temp, is attempting to convince Step to sue so that she can get part of the cash settlement.

There’s a lot going on, but it never really meshes. There are individual scenes that are inspired– a sequence involving marijuana takes off, and the opening scene with two guitar salesmen sets a great tone– but the film doesn’t flow together well. Plus, Judge’s trademark humor disappears for scenes at a time, while he tries moving the plot forward and establishes a conventional buddy repor between Bateman and Affleck. These scenes lacked the same sort of off-the-beaten-path humor that Ron Livingston and Diedrich Bader shared in Office Space, or that Luke Wilson and Dax Shepard shared in Idiocracy. It felt all too… normal.

Certain characters shine for moments. Affleck’s marijuana-owning friend Willie (Matt Schulze) is intense, frightening, and unique. J.K. Simmons plays the gag about never remembering anyone’s name perfectly, though I wondered if in a previous film, the gag would have needed to be pointed out by a character– it would have been funny on its own. Clifton Collins Jr. is a terrific character actor who brings some earnestness to what could have become a typical redneck stereotype. Bateman does his usual straight man routine, and because he’s naturally funny, he earns some chuckles just from a few deadpan stares. And Affleck… well, he relishes these goofy character bit parts in films, and digs his teeth into the idiocy that Dean provides.

One of the big problems with the film is Joel’s wife, played by Kristin Wiig. Wiig does well, gets a couple laughs, and actually shows some potential to play real, three-dimensional roles in the future, something she hasn’t really done in any films yet. However, her character does something that is so totally out of touch with everything we know about her that not only do we lose sympathy for her and her husband, we wonder why in the world the movie would have gone in this direction. *slight spoilers to follow, stop now if you’re not interested in learning* Joel hires a male prostitute (Dustin Mulligan) to try to seduce his wife so that he won’t feel guilty if he has an affair… and it works, despite the fact that the male prostitute is a one-note unintelligent buffoon. Judge even sets the film up so that Joel thinks she has cheated, but we are reassured by the way the scenes between Joel and his wife play out that she didn’t, and we await the reveal that he’s wrong. However, the way Judge reveals that she did cheat is treated so casually, it’s as if no one in the film realizes how dumb this plot twist is. *end spoilers*

Luckily, there’s Nathan. Nathan belongs in the pantheon of great annoying characters in film history, like Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day and Bill Lumbergh from Judge’s own Office Space. Everyone knows someone who simply doesn’t take a hint. Nathan wouldn’t take a hint if you fired it in his face with a cannon. Koechner nails the Judge comedy rhythms, the pauses, the repetitions, and the little tiny nuances in his face that make him extra annoying. He gets about 90% of the film’s biggest laughs (including the biggest one, near the end), and the conclusion of Nathan’s quest to get Joel and his wife to come to dinner is a classic. If the rest of the movie had gone for that level of off the beaten path, then Judge would have had a huge hit. Instead, it’s a mildly funny comedy that extracts more smiles than actual laughs.

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~ by russellhainline on September 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “Extract: God Bless The Annoying Next Door Neighbor”

  1. good review, might check it out if it ever reaches netflix streaming

  2. […] post is from here. Visit the link to read more.However, there is one brilliant, purely Judgeian creation– Nathan, […]

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