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Movie review: 'Bad Words' is just plain bad

Bad Words


There are only a select handful of actors in Hollywood that are universally loved by all on-screen, and are considered to be all-around nice guys. Jason Bateman is definitely one of them. Well, that is all about to change when you see him in the new film, Bad Words (opening today). He plays a character so despicable, so mean-spirited and so miserable, that you can't help but hate him. OK "hate" is a strong word. Here's a stronger one: loathe. Yes, you will end up loathing Bateman and wondering just what possessed him to make this film.

Scenes from "Bad Words."
Scenes from "Bad Words."
2014 Focus Features
"Bad Words."
2014 Focus Features

Bad Words is in fact the feature-film directorial debut for Jason Bateman. It's categorized as a "comedy" because, I presume, it's meant to be funny. Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old who finds a loophole in a national spelling bee competition that allows anyone to compete as long as they have never finished the 8th grade. Trilby apparently has an ulterior motive for entering the competition and competing against children, making a mockery of the whole process.

He's no Billy Madison though. Trilby is apparently a spelling genius, effortlessly spelling 20+ letter words without even asking the judges for the words' origin or meaning. He's also a smug bastard, who targets other children in the competition and ridicules them into submission. He makes fun of a fat kid and puts ketchup on the seat of a young girl, who is tricked into thinking she had her period.

He is followed around by a no-self-esteem reporter, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), who is trying to build a story around this odd and infuriating individual. They occasionally have meaningless sex and Jenny constantly fails at trying to get even the smallest bit if personal info out of Guy for her story.

On the way to the national competition, Guy begrudgingly befriends a young contestant, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a small Indian boy who is also a front-runner to win.

Conveniently, Chaitanya's parents give him a hotel room all by himself and choose to stay in a neighboring hotel, to build the young man's character. Sure. Mostly, this small provision just allows for more freedom for Guy and Chaitanya to do a bunch of insane things together, all in the name of mean-spiritedness.

And that's what everything boils down to here: Meanness. It's almost as if this film is an exercise to see just how awful one character can be. Guy - through the entirety of the film - has no arc and gives us absolutely no reason to root for him, or worse, to care about him whatsoever. (Spoiler!) He doesn't even get a comeuppance in the end. Nope, he's just a mean prick who blows in and blows out, wreaking havoc along the way and leaving a trail of crying, disappointed children and parents in his wake.

How an adult could be allowed to compete in this competition in the first place, or even that the "loophole" would exist, is a huge stretch of believability for the audience to make. But what makes bad turn to awful is that Guy is given the hero treatment. He takes the young boy out, gives him shots of alcohol and cigarettes, teaches him bad words and even hires him a prostitute. What a guy. There are no real adults around in this film to even point out the dangers associated here or act as a point of contention.

Comedy is all in good fun, but "fun" is the missing element in Bad Words. Our time is spent watching this horrible person belittle children, mistreat women and ruin several lives. In fact, the "reveal" of the film is based around his intention to ruin someone else's life. How is this remotely funny? It then has the audacity to ask us for some dramatic sympathy later in the film. Oh the nerve.

The movie could have attempted to redeem itself by giving some sort of lesson, or consequence, when all was said and done. Heck, we never even discover how Trilby became a genius in the first place, other than that he scored high as a child. But he didn't finish the eighth grade. And why did he choose now to exact his revenge? It's frustrating that absolutely nothing seemed to work.

The intention of Bad Words is lost on me.

Genre: Comedy

Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated R

Starring : Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Amanda Anka, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Falcone, Allison Janney

Written by Andrew Dodge (debut screenplay)

Directed by Jason Bateman (feature-film directorial debut)

Opens locally on Friday, March 21, 2014 (check for show times).

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, no redeeming qualities and/or a total waste of time
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