Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ask me in about five years

I am a big fan of comedy that eschews "vaudeville." By vaudeville, I mean the style of comedy which advertises the punch lines well in advance--so well, in fact, that good vaudeville can elicit laughs from things which are shaped like jokes but which are not actually jokes. Among the anti-vaudeville performers I would list Bob & Ray, Ernie Kovacs, who was unafraid to let a bit run on and on without a joke in sight, and the troupe assembled by Christopher Guest to make films such as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, which, since their intent is to ape human behavior, feature characters who have no idea that they are funny, and therefore do nothing to signal the audience as to where the funny bits are.

Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, both of which I find profoundly dull and irritating, is also responsible for Office Space and Idiocracy, which I enjoy quite a bit. In the case of Office Space, I don't think I laughed out loud once during my first viewing. Now my wife and I have favorite bits that we go back to over and over and giggle about. I assume nearly everyone reading this at least knows about the red Swingline stapler and the married squirrels.

Extract (2009) examines the world of pointless work from the bosses' perspective, and their lives are not much better than their workers. Oddly enough, however, the central crux of the story has little or nothing to do with work, which renders this film, for all its deadpan humor, weaker and more diffuse than its famous predecessor. It consists of an odd little doodle--not a real humorous examination--on the subject of infidelity. And the deadpan style, the complete lack of reaction to almost any stimulus robs the brilliant Kristen Wiig of any opportunity for brilliance. In fact, nothing is connected to anything else. The product made--artificially created flavors--suggests ripe territory for satire of American life and tastes, but there is no follow-through there, either. One admires how Judge sidesteps potential cliches, but he does not replace them with any LOL ideas.

Is it funny? Yes. Is it as funny as it could be? What is? I'm afraid I won't know how funny Extract is for a while yet--and we'll have to see if we're still looking at it, or if we've moved onto something else. We do know this. Ben Affleck is much funnier as a minor supporting character than he is as a lead. At least, funnier on purpose.

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