Directed by Jason Bateman
Starring Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney
Some movies are the perfect mix of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and good message vibes. Bad Words is not that kind of movie. It's brutally honest about its sarcasm, but it unfortunately falls flat.
Jason Bateman, whose enjoyed quite the long career, makes his directorial debut with this broad comedy about a 40-something who hardheadedly enters his local, and then national, spelling bee. A clause in the bee's rules allow for anyone who didn't complete 8th grade to qualify. Bateman's Guy Trilby never made it past 8th grade, according to his school transcripts, so he technically qualifies. Once he makes it to the national level, he very verbally takes the reins of his destiny in the competition. The president of the bee (Allison Janney) isn't able to stop him, though she tries. A reporter (Kathryn Hahn) following his story and sponsoring him, while also getting a few nights in the bed with him as well, can't seem to change his spirit. Only a fellow competitor, a young, precocious 10-year old (Rohan Chand) named Chaitanya Chopra, is able to shake him.
Bad Words wants to have a few endearing moments of revelation, especially for its main character. When he warms to the idea of being little Chopra's mentor-of-sorts, any feelings of warmth for the audiences are missing. Perhaps it's because Trilby is such a disgusting person. Yes, we do find out his true inspiration for his quest, but even that isn't a reason enough to level out the amounts of hatred he spews from his mouth. It also doesn't account for some of the horrible things he does to some of the kids he's up against.
Now, before you accuse me of being close-minded, let me say I completely get satire. I've enjoyed other "bad adult" comedies, like Bad Santa. But, Bad Words doesn't add up. The sarcasm is never warranted and the punchlines never come full circle. A joke with a pack of ketchup is just bizarre. Even movies about grossly bad people have some redeeming value. Bateman's Bad Words puzzle is all intention with a missing piece.
For the sake of filmmaking, there are a few lights in the darkness. While I was disgusted by Bateman's character the entire time, I did still find Bateman's commitment to the role impressive. Hahn is one of the funniest people around and it's great seeing her get more screen time in films. The real scene-stealer, though, is Chand. Every so often you see a child actor that just really gets the role they're playing; such is the case with him here.
Bad Words isn't the most complete waste of time, but the fact that it literally offers nothing of superior value makes it a dud for me. You'll laugh at a few moments. You'll cringe at others. But, you'll mostly just wonder to yourself how a storyline like this could ever be taken as believable, especially when the denouement itself is so reaching. Sorry, Bateman. Stick with "Arrested Development."
Runtime: 89 minutes