Jason Bateman was witty and smart, as usual, on "The Daily Show" last night -- he would probably have been even better if an oddly off-rhythm Jon Stewart hadn't frequently cut into Bateman's smooth line of patter. I had to wonder all over again why our comedy writers and directors can't provide our best farceurs with movies worthy of their talents. With the right roles, Bateman could be a comic superstar -- maybe even a comic and dramatic superstar, given his superb appearance in the political thriller "State of Play." But his list of credits is a roller-coaster ride between half-good hits like "Hancock" and abominations like "Couples Retreat." The clip from "The Change-Up" didn't convince me to give it a try.
I think one of his least-seen movies is one of Bateman's best. Try renting Mike Judge's 2009 critical hit "Extract," a daft workplace comedy about a man who has founded and run a successful flavor extract company and lost the sexual attention of his wife.
Writer-director Judge, who made the ultimate cubicle movie, "Office Space," brings the brains of a satirical biologist to "Extracted," his view of life on a bottling line and in all the office nooks and crannies - and trailer parks and upscale suburbs - surrounding it. And the ensemble, led by Bateman as the company owner and Kristen Wiig as his wife, is seamless.
Judge taps Bateman's uncanny ability to convey the hidden corners of rage and lust in a normally mild-mannered and always good-hearted guy. Bateman is a perfect match for Wiig, a master of furtive looks, tones and gestures. And Ben Affleck, almost unrecognizable under a gnarly mop of hair, plays Bateman's best friend, and offers a view of stoner hedonism that ranks with Jeff Bridges' as the Dude in "The Big Lebowski." He's hilarious when he introduces himself as "entrepreneur, spiritualist and healer."
But Bateman holds it all together. No one is better -- or funnier -- at playing a man who's simultaneously decent and woefully confused.