Jason Bateman is known for playing nice guys in movies. So it's a bit of a shock to watch him jump into the shoes of bad guy for his latest film, "Bad Words." This is not what we've come to expect from a Jason Bateman movie-especially in his directorial debut.
Bateman plays Guy, a proofreader who shows up one day demanding that he be allowed to compete in the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee. The organizers are shocked to find a grown man determined to compete against children.
They can't refuse him, thanks to an unfortunate loophole in their contest rules.
Guy not only wins the spelling prize, but he ruthlessly torments his pint-sized competitors. His behavior is inexcusable, although quite funny if you enjoy sick and twisted humor. It's not all black comedy, as Guy reluctantly bonds with one Indian-American whiz kid (Rohan Chand) and proceeds to become a dark mentor-figure of sorts.
Once again, Guy's behavior is inexcusable, but it provides plenty of laughs for adults who have ever had to deal with an annoying child. It's a guilty pleasure; a dark wish fulfillment movie that generates some rather robust laughs. That's my litmus test for any comedy, which means that "Bad Words" gets my recommendation with the caveat that this black comedy will probably fall flat with those who are easily offended.
The movie isn't quite a successful in delivering fully fleshed out characters. It feels as if the film was pared down from a far more complex screenplay, making some of the characters and subplots feel like afterthoughts. I appreciate Bateman's desire to give us a fast-paced and concise comedy, but I wouldn't have minded spending a little more time with these characters.
It's a bit surprising, given Guy's despicable actions, that I still found the character to be quite likable and I was invested in his demented quest. Perhaps that just means that I need therapy, but kudos to Bateman for letting his everyman charisma shine through despite his misanthropic actions.
Ultimately, "Bad Words" follows in the trend of raunchy comedies with a heart of gold, although it's sometimes difficult to believe that there's any goodness here. I for one am grateful for filmmakers who understand that not every film should be made with all audiences in mind. I certainly recommend this movie to my grown up friends. Particularly my grown up friends who are a little sick and twisted-they'll find "Bad Words" to be laugh-out-loud funny.
Three Stars ***