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A Combustible Mix

A Combustible Mix (photo)

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It’s fitting that Mike Judge’s last two movies have been released over Labor Day weekend, since he’s one of few American filmmakers actively concerned with the world of work. Workplace dramas have dominated TV for years, effectively replacing shows that revolved around the nuclear family; none of the overachievers on “ER” or “Law & Order” had time for anything more than a fleeting assignation in between saving lives and catching perps. But movies have, by and large, been reluctant to tread the same ground. It falls to indie realists like Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”) and Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) to illuminate the mundane business of making — or, in the latter case, not making — a living.

Judge is an exception, and a more noteworthy one for developing a style that incorporates satire and outright farce without losing track of the real world. (Does anyone know what the characters on “30 Rock” actually do?) The impenetrable jargon of “Office Space” — T.P.S. reports and the like — may not mean anything, but it feels like it does, enough that Judge’s anti-conformist broadside has been embraced, “Dilbert”-style, by cubicle drones who want to be in on the joke.

“Extract,” Judge’s fourth film as a director, climbs the corporate ladder from working stiff to bossman. Joel (Jason Bateman) not only runs Reynold’s Extract, a small factory that turns out bottles of concentrated flavor, he owns the shop. Judge, however, doesn’t use the change in perspective to attack the tyranny of management from the inside. He paints Joel as just another laboring drudge, albeit one with bigger problems than locating his missing stapler.

Although it’s far less pointed than the caustic “Idiocracy,” “Extract” has the same underlying theme: the unstoppable forward march of the morons. From “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill” through his feature films, Judge has established himself as the poet laureate of American stupidity, a trait he embraces as much as he assaults. It’s no coincidence both “Idiocracy” and “Extract” prominently feature a man getting whacked in the balls. The victim of “Extract”‘s testicular mashing is Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), a loyal sorter and would-be floor manager whose workplace injury is caused by the cumulative thick-wittedness of several co-workers: a bottler who lets the assembly line back up to show her disapproval of the plant’s new Mexican employee, a forklift operator who’s more interested in talking up his death metal band than learning to drive.

09022009_Extract2.jpgThat’s only the beginning of Joel’s misfortunes, which multiply when a lucrative offer to buy out the factory makes Step the target of a comely con artist named Cindy (Mila Kunis), who cajoles him into filing a workman’s comp lawsuit, which in turn endangers the company’s sale. At Cindy’s suggestion, he hires lawyer Joe Adler (a pustulent Gene Simmons, of the band KISS) a local ambulance chaser whose negotiating tactics involve inviting Joel to crush his testicles in a doorjamb.

There’s some domestic mishegoss as well, involving Joel’s attempts to get his wife (Kristin Wiig) to sleep with a featherbrained hustler (Dustin Milligan), so he won’t feel guilty about making a play for Cindy — a plot cooked up by his friend Dean (a semi-dreadlocked Ben Affleck) and okayed while Joel is under the influence of ketamine. But when Judge steps out of the workplace, he loses his footing. The only moments of sharpness on the home front come when Joel’s interacting with his unctuous neighbor played by David Koechner. Diligently worming his way into Joel’s life, Koechner’s Nathan pounces on every opportunity for a conversation, deaf to Joel’s attempts to shut him down. Koechner walks the line between passive aggression and genuine obliviousness, with just enough mania in his eyes to make his ardor genuinely unnerving.

Judge is a gifted writer, but he doesn’t know how to shape a scene, or use the camera to do anything but watch people talk. That nondescript style fit the deadened environs of “Office Space,” but here it drags everything downward. The spaces between jokes lay fallow, with only perfunctory efforts at character-building to move things along. Perhaps Judge is better suited to cartoons, where the characters return to their starting points at the end of each episode and wait in cold storage until they’re pulled out again.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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