dir-scr Mike Judge
prd John Altschuler, Michael Rotenberg
with Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, JK Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr, Dustin Milligan, David Koechner, Beth Grant, TJ Miller, Matt Schulze, Gene Simmons
release US 4.Sep.09, UK 26.Mar.10
09/US 1h32
Are you trying to seduce me? Bateman and Kunis

wiig affleck simmons
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Extract Mixing absurd comedy with understated dialog, Mike Judge spins an amiable farce about marriage and work ethics. Although the film doesn't seem very focussed, it's enjoyable and sometimes very funny.

Joel (Bateman) has built his flavouring extracts company from the ground up, complete with a goofy staff managed by the distracted Dean (JK Simmons). But all this work has left Joel's marriage to Suzie (Wiig) feeling a bit dry, and his zen-barman pal Dean (Affleck) suggests that he hires a dim gigolo (Milligan) to seduce Suzie and spice things up. Meanwhile, a slinky con artist (Kunis) is working on both Dean and an injured employee (Collins) to get whatever she can.

The clever point at the centre is that reality is undermining Joel's fabulous life: he owns a profitable company and yet his marriage is drifting away, his employees are rising up against him, someone is trying to steal everything he has and his neighbour Nathan (Koechner) is driving him nuts. No wonder he's thinking about selling up and retiring early. Strangely, this seems to be as far as Judge's script has thought it through; premise is everything, as it's all about the situations and interaction rather than the corny plot.

While this character-driven approach feels fresh, it also leaves the film lacking pace or momentum. Affleck's character seems to exist mainly to dispense information about everyone else and make suggestions that push things in mildly humorous directions. Koechner is here just to obnoxiously ruffle Joel's feathers. And side players like Miller's cocky goth and Grant's gossipy shrew merely add wacky texture. Even Gene Simmons only seems to be playing a mild caricature of himself in his scenes.

Even so, the film has some hilarious touches consistently scattered through it. Milligan is a wonderfully beautiful idiot, while Kunis vamps it up right to the end, mercifully avoiding any fake redemptive finale. But essentially this is a gentle comedy of understatement ("This might have been a mistake," says Dean as everything melts down) with moments of inspired black humour (Suzie finally loses her cool with Nathan). It all feels a little half-hearted and goofy, but maybe that's what makes it so recognisable.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo, drugs 9.Mar.10

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