Jason Bateman has a unique sense of humor. He plays a certain type of dry, sarcastic character so often that you begin to wonder and sort of hope he’s like that in real life. This spring, he makes his directorial debut and stars in “Bad Words,” a seemingly light storyline that adds a sinister twist.
At age 40, Guy Trilby (Bateman) has weaseled his way into spelling competitions by way of a loophole in the rules and proceeds to advance to the “big game” - The Golden Quill Spelling Bee. Along the way, he deals with disgruntled parents and annoyed spelling bee moderators, but in the end he is allowed to compete. He partly has Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) to thank for that for being the media sponsor required for him compete.
The two of them travel from competition to competition. He in the hopes of winning it all. She in the hopes of trying to get a story. Though their relationships do allow for some trysts, it seems like this is more out of boredom rather than lustful urge.
The more interesting relationship is the one between Guy and wide-eyed master speller, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who is on the border between adorable and annoying and of course, wants to befriend Guy. In an odd turn of events, Guy makes a rowdy, bad uncle-like effort to show the pre-teen a good time (in the form of strippers and junk food) while Chaitanya's parents leave him on his own in hotels and on flights.
Underneath Guy’s prickles is a middle-aged man looking for some validation. Seeking it through spelling bees, he’s getting closer to the actual thing he is after: acceptance. But, from whom?
At just shy of 90 minutes, the movie knows when to stop, so credits for the editing. Jason Bateman’s strength is that he’s still likable even when the characters he plays do everything to change that. The movie is likable as well, but would be nothing without its star.
Final words: Jason Bateman fans will enjoy his smugness. It’s a short flick with some funny moments. (3.5 stars)