Director: Jason Bateman
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rohan Chand, Phillip Baker Hall, Ben Falcone
I sometimes wonder what drives actors and directors to certain projects. I then wonder if I’m maybe missing something. Am I in a bad mood? Why am I not laughing? Such is the case when it came to Bad Words. Jason Bateman is one of those child stars that actually transitioned pretty well into working as an adult in the business. He will always be Michael Bluth to me after his four seasons on “Arrested Development”. For his big screen directorial debut, he chose this script from beginner screenwriter Andrew Dodge. I really would like to know why. Not only does Bateman direct the film, but he stars as the main character, Guy Trilby.
Guy never graduated from the eighth grade and uses that as he way into competing in national children’s spelling bees. He finds that loophole in the rules and milks it for some unknown reason. He ends up winning some competitions and gets himself entered into The Golden Quill, a legendary and prestigious tournament that is now being broadcast for the first time. His media sponsor Jenny Widgeon (Hahn) is forced to tag along as part of some other rule where the students or random adult need a sponsor to enter.
Rumors of Guy and his reputation spread to those involved with the competition where protests and arguments ensue against the president of the tournament (Janney) for allowing him to enter. Even the hotel gets word of Guy’s antics and pays him back by making him stay in the custodian’s closet. The tournament continues with Guy participating despite the hatred from everyone else involved. Guy aces through ever word he is given. At the same time, he will go to extremely stupid lengths to humiliate the other contestants into getting eliminated. The only kid that seems unphased by Guy is ten-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Chand). He follows Guy all over the hotel insisting they become friends. Guy eventually relents and takes Chaitanya on many inappropriate, dangerous, and immature little nightly trips.
If you think it sounds like a dumb premise, you are pretty accurate in your assessment. I know some people were laughing throughout the film, but the Allison Janney scenes were the only moments I found myself laughing at throughout the eighty minute movie. The majority of the comedy comes from Guy’s humiliation of the kids and his actions towards turning Chaitanya into a man. Of course there are plenty of insults and slurs along the way toward Chaitanya’s nationality, “Slumdog” being one of them. We have seen these types of comedies before where the main character is this deplorable human or some old curmudgeon. Those films have been funny as it can be funny watching someone be a grump. Bateman’s character seems so lonely, bitter, and angry and it’s all directed toward these innocent and smart kids. I just don’t find that type of humor funny. Maybe I was remembering my days when I was a child who got teased from time to time. We do find out late in the movie what his motivation is but it comes far too late and isn’t strong enough to support his actions.
With such a funny cast, I really wanted this to work. Allison Janney and Kathryn Hahn are always fantastic in supporting roles. Unfortunately, Hahn has such a weird role here that her comedic talents are just wasted. Phillip Baker Hall and Ben Falcone play the spelling bee announcers. If you saw Lone Survivor (which you should have!), you may recognize Rohan Chand. He is cute, likeable, and has this nice innocent quality that is a nice juxtaposition to Bateman. I thought there would be a clever little twist or witty banter, but Dodge’s script is amateurish at best. It tries to have some poignant moments, but it just falls flat. The “humor” stemming from the kid’s humiliation is just crass and crude. I’m not trying to claim I only like clean comedy. I love a good raunchy flick, but it just doesn’t work here. I really like Jason Bateman, but I just don’t understand what drew him to this movie.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? No, don’t waste your time unless you want something to add to your worst of the year list.
RATING: 1 out of 5 Ticket Stubs