"I'm not all that good at thinking things through. That's why this plan was so shitty"
Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) has found a loophole in the National Spelling Bee guidelines and is exploiting it by entering and competing in the competition as an adult. While his reasons remain unclear, he comes armed with a sharp knowledge, a spunky journalist (Katherine Hahn) and a thirst for victory. Although making friends with a fellow young competitor (Rohan Chand) along the way might not have been part of his plan.
It feels like every since “Bad Santa” came along in 2003 every few years a new “hardcore” comedy comes along using the preface Bad to make them seem edgy and cool despite being quite the contrary. The one major thing that “Bad Santa” had at its core that made it work and made it so enjoyable was a likeable, albeit heavily flawed, protagonist. That’s the one thing that is lacking in the latest slew of “Bad” films and I’m afraid to say that “Bad Words” falls into the same camp.
Bateman gives a fine performance as Trilby, but at the end of the day he still comes across as a dick with no real redemption for his acts. The fault here doesn’t lie with Bateman, but rather in the writing. If there was some real exchange of values or lessons to be had for the character instead of the malicious intent that seems to be his through line it would have made for a much more enjoyable experience but unfortunately that was not to be. All that being said Bateman, as mentioned previously, delivers an on-point performance, letting his “dick flag fly” if you will, seeming to revel in the opportunity to not play the same old average Joe he’s seeming to have been cornered into ever since “Arrested Development”. Katherine Hahn and Allison Janney also give fine performance despite not having a whole lot of character development to deal with and Rohan Chand manages to keep his own against the quick-witted and fast talking Bateman in scenes depicting the pairs friendship growing that are easily the best in the film.
What the film lacks in terms of character development it makes up for in the visuals as Bateman has crafted a damn good looking film. Having cut his directing teeth in the world of television previously it’s nice to see he’s managed to throw in very distinct visual nuances, creating a debut feature that doesn’t look like most traditional comedies, adopting an edgier and more lived in feel that works well with the subject matter. This first effort gives high hopes for a solid directing career in his future.
If you’re looking for a high-end comedy with good characters and a nice arc to be had this is probably not the film for you. If you’re looking for a good way to spend an hour and a half on the couch with a pizza and a few beers you can definitely do a lot worse than this. While it’s nothing special, “Bad Words” is still better than some of the other comedies out there sharing the same first word in their title.
5.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Chris Swan