The feature film directorial debut for Jason Bateman, Bad Words is firmly ensconced in the realm of raunchy, R-rated comedies with a heart of gold. Bateman is attempting to balance wholesale vulgarity with a heartwarming, human touch. Unfortunately — despite occasionally deft direction from Bateman — the material just isn’t there. Boiled down to its basics, Bad Words is predicated on little more than the dull irony of adults being coarse and crude around children but with the not-so-surprising twist of a genteel ending. Bad Words’ aims are simply too transparent, and its plotting is too predictable for the film to work. What it does manage to get right isn’t very impressive.
Bateman also stars in the film, playing Guy Trilby, a crass, cruel, seemingly angry, yet very intelligent 40-year-old man, who’s entered a prestigious children’s spelling bee through a loophole. For obvious reasons, no one but Guy is pleased the idea of mocking of a kids’ competition. His motives, which become increasingly obvious as the movie unfolds, can likely be guessed before the plot catches up.
Along the way, Guy meets 10-year-old Chaitanya (Rohan Chand, Jack and Jill), a gregarious, naive competitor who wants to be friends. Reluctantly, Guy lets down his guard and submits to this unlikely bit of companionship, becoming a surrogate father to Chaitanya while dealing with his own daddy issues. Surprisingly, this is handled fairly adroitly, and there is a bit of heart here. It’s also obvious that Bateman is more comfortable with the more heartfelt aspects of the film. As far as his direction goes, he’s at his best with small touches and details. But there are glaring mistakes here, the main one being that Bateman miscast himself. He’s always been better utilized comedically as the straight man, so this sort of crass jerk just doesn’t suit his strengths as an actor.
Beyond that, Bad Words doesn’t do enough to be all that entertaining. None of it is truly awful, but there’s simply no spark to it. Bad Words simply oozes adequacy, so while I can’t call Bateman’s film bad, exactly, it’s not really very memorable either. Despite all the supposed “adult” content, this is a film that defines nondescript. Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas.