REVIEW: Bad Words

7 07 2014

Bad WordsJason Bateman has long been saddled with the reputation as a go-to guy for playing the uptight, no-nonsense straight man in comedy.  After having finally watched “Arrested Development,” I can see why he got typecast – he’s quite skilled at it.  But too much of a good thing can get quite boring, and he’s rarely given a great supporting cast to whom he can react.

It appears that in order to get a different kind of role, Bateman had to step behind the camera himself for “Bad Words.”  His performance recalls two others in films that also began with the same word: Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa” and Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher.”  Bateman tackles a character, Guy Trilby, who is more or less irredeemably rotten to the core, save the one classic written-in soft spot that gets exposed over the course of the film.

Guy exploits a loophole in a national spelling bee – he never graduated from middle school – and enters himself into competition at the ripe old age of 40.  His presence alone angers parents, but they’d probably put a bullet through his head if they knew the shenanigans he pulled to fluster their kids.  Stuck in arrested development as an 11-year-old bully, Guy ruthlessly humiliates vulnerable and insecure teenagers into making mistakes at the microphone.

Bateman and writer Andrew Dodge clearly intend these moments to be funny, but all too often, “Bad Words” seems too far away from any sort of moral compass.  Rather than eliciting laughs, they activate our sympathy and pity for the kids Guy is picking on.  It’s not unlike the feeling I had watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” wondering how I could possibly find humor and levity at the expense of someone else’s livelihood.

Bad Words

Thankfully, there’s some charm to be found elsewhere in “Bad Words,” namely in young Rohan Chand as Chaitanya Chopra.  Somehow unfazed by Guy’s mean spirits, Chaitanya begins an improbable friendship with his much older competitor.  Their relationship, however, winds up being more like father-son (provided that father has the ethical code of a teenager) to both their benefits.

Still, the payoff for all the meanness we have to sit through in “Bad Words” is pretty slim (and not purposefully like a “Young Adult“). Bateman seems so eager to release all the pent-up anger and malice in every character from Michael Bluth to Sandy in “Identity Thief” that it comes out rather excessively.  The pendulum swung a little too far to the opposite temperament for Bateman here; hopefully he finds more equilibrium in future roles.  B / 2halfstars



One response

7 07 2014

Good review Marshall. The movie was funny and all, but what made it so worth watching was Bateman. Finally, after some odd years of just dead-panning the hell out of everything he touched, he gets a chance to wreck havoc and play a loose, wild character. Not only was it hilarious to watch, but pretty fun as well.

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