Director: Jason Bateman
Studio: Darko Entertainment
Stars: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rachael Harris
With Bad Words, based on Andrew Dodge’s screenplay, star Jason Bateman takes his bow as a feature film director. He’s described the material as “Bad Santa with spelling bees,” and that’s pretty much what the movie is. The gifted Bateman plays an acrid, nasty 40-year-old who can think of nothing better to do than to travel the country exploiting a loophole that lands him spots on the competitive spelling circuit, where he competes against a series of bright, insecure prepubescents. Parents, kids and spelling circuit officials (like Allison Janney) revile him, which only seems to give the miserable schmuck’s life a bit more meaning. He’ll stop at nothing to win, never hesitating to mess with a kid’s head by talking trash about his mother or tricking a sweet young competitor into believing that she’s having her first menses. The guy’s a crank, a loon who might say or do anything, which makes him a lot of fun to watch and listen to. Naturally, Bateman’s innate likability gives extra dimensions to the character’s bitterness. Traveling along with him is a nosy reporter (Kathryn Hahn, highly welcome as usual) who is out to unmask his motivations—you know, because so many publications these days have unlimited funds for such trivia. Anyway, along the road, the two occasionally hook up, thankfully, because Hahn’s scenes are among the very funniest and most memorably weird in the entire movie. For the first 45 minutes or so, the movie hums along—very sharp and funny—on its own venomous steam. But things get repetitive and, finally, once the film explains Bateman’s character’s insecurities and gives him a slap on the butt for his bad behavior, it’s clear that the movie writes a vulgar, bilious, anything-goes promise that it simply cannot keep. There's still plenty of fun to be had along the way, though.