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Mike Judge's cinema of cluelessness

By Todd Leopold, CNN
Mike Judge, right, with "Extract" star Gene Simmons, finds clueless characters both funny and scary.
Mike Judge, right, with "Extract" star Gene Simmons, finds clueless characters both funny and scary.
  • Mike Judge's latest film, "Extract," out on home video Tuesday
  • In "Extract," Jason Bateman's factory owner deals with variety of clueless characters
  • "It's funny to me just observing how little people listen to one another," says Judge
  • Mike Judge
  • Jason Bateman
  • Movies

(CNN) -- You know the type.

He's the neighbor who doesn't seem to have anything better to do with his time, so he flags you down as you're pulling in to your driveway and begins a mindless, long-winded conversation. He's the boss who talks in jargon and is more focused on your paperwork than your performance. He's the citizen who doesn't ask questions but just goes with the flow, even if the flow is going in the wrong direction.

Mike Judge knows them, too. He finds them infuriating -- and hilarious. He's made them key characters in his films, including "Office Space" and "Idiocracy," giving a face to a solipsism he runs into all too often.

In his latest film, "Extract," it's Jason Bateman's character, a flavor-extract factory owner named Joel Reynold, who has to deal with people who just aren't listening. His wife, for reasons unknown, has decided to stop having sex with him. His employees are focused on little annoyances, like other employees who don't appear to be pulling their weight.

And there's that neighbor, played by David Koechner, who continually waylays Reynold into conversation and is determined to sell him tickets to a Rotary Club event.

Is it any wonder that he's considering having an affair and selling the company?

"Extract," which comes out on DVD Tuesday, had a short run in theaters in late summer but, like other Judge films, fell well short of blockbuster status. Still, "Office Space" and "Idiocracy" have had strong afterlives on home video, and "Extract" -- which also stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons, an almost unrecognizable Ben Affleck and (in a small role) Judge himself -- may have the same fortunate fate.

CNN talked to Judge about his characters' communication problems, his movies' audience issues, and why the main character's name is missing an "s." The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: So I'm speaking with ["King of the Hill's"] Hank Hill himself.

Mike Judge: That's right. That's me.

CNN: I think you have a better grasp of cluelessness than any other director or writer. There are characters in this movie, as well as "Office Space" and "Idiocracy," that are both endearing and infuriating. Where does that come from, that good ear and eye for that?

Judge: Probably because it infuriates me so much, I can see the humor in it. Sometimes I'll be telling somebody a story, and I'll be getting the biggest laughs about some person I had to deal with who was driving me crazy -- and I wasn't necessarily trying to be funny. ...

The Koechner character, I had a neighbor -- a woman -- at a gated community so there was only one way out, and she would stop you. And you basically had a choice between listening to her for an hour or being rude to her, or even worse, she would physically have herself planted in your window, like I had Koechner do, where in order to get away, you have to roll that window up with her arm there. ... And she was a master of making you think she was winding down, so you'd go, "OK!" and she wasn't really winding down.

CNN: You primarily live in Texas, but spend time in Southern California. Do you find that trait more in California -- known for its self-involved people -- or is it all over?

Judge: All over, in different ways. ... It's funny to me just observing how little people listen to one another. I find it funny and infuriating. Just seeing one person giving a piece of misinformation and another person confirm it and somebody else correct it and they're wrong, too, and nobody's listening anyway. I find it kind of funny and scary.

CNN: How do you feel about the way your movies have been handled? Though "Extract" had some time in theaters, it may get a better life on DVD, like "Office Space."

Judge: Um, well I think if you decide to make movies, you're picking the most expensive art form. So it's going to be frustrating, 'cause you're dealing with these people who are going to lose their job if your movie doesn't make a lot of money, so they're very nervous and I would be too if I were in that job.

But I kind of look at it that I'm pretty lucky that I've been able to make four movies, if you include the "Beavis and Butt-head" movie, and I kind of look at [my job as] I'm going to make the movie the best I can, and it's someone else's job to distribute it.

What I learned from "Office Space" is, if there's an audience for something nowadays they'll eventually find it, I believe. And I think my stuff probably plays better on DVD anyway, because it maybe doesn't have big emotionally satisfying endings. ...

I think when you have a big, emotionally satisfying ending, that helps you stay in a movie theater seat for however many hours a movie is. But I'd like to think that [my movies] work at their [90-minute] length. I feel like there's not much of that, and nobody else does it.

CNN: A side question: In the film, the name of the business is "Reynold's," with the apostrophe-s. Intentional?

Judge: It was supposed to be "Reynolds'," with the apostrophe at the end. But there was a mistake. So his name is Joel Reynold. ... I think Jason [Bateman] pointed out [the mistake], so I told him his name was Reynold. It was already painted on a sign.

I really hate apostrophes in the wrong place, so I'm bummed out that happened.