R, 89 min.
Director: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Steve Witting, Rachael Harris
Jason Bateman’s “Bad Words” isn’t the shot of shock and awe it purports to be. It is an enjoyable adult comedy, though. It involves a grown man who participates in a national spelling bee through a loophole in the rules. It is about how his presence angers everyone involved in the bee, including parents, organizers, and even a journalist whom he drags along in order to threaten the contest organizers with the law and have some unhealthy sex under the promise of an exclusive story about his motivations for participating in the bee. The other contestants, however, seem singularly unphased by his participation, except when he sabotages them with inappropriate implications just before they’re supposed to spell. And one of the other contestants rather likes him.
Of course, none of his interactions with the contestant who likes him are truly inappropriate to the point of being disturbing, because this man is not disturbed, except by one secret that he refuses to tell the journalist. This secret is, of course, the entire reason for his being there. It is also a compelling factor in the film’s ability to capture the audience’s fascination. Maybe his secret is easier to figure out for some than others. I wonder if people who figure it out before I did will be as engrossed by the film for as long as I was. It seems once I figured it out the rest of the film became de rigueur.
I think the friendship developed between the man and the kid contestant is a way for the filmmakers to add a new element once the secret becomes obvious. Their relationship is cute and makes the film much more mainstream than it might have otherwise been. I liked the idea that the kid had actually made the man his mark at one point though. Unfortunately, the filmmakers drop this idea for a more conventional comedic relationship between man and child. I would’ve liked to see it go darker, with the kid really being sinister about beating this 40-year-old man in his own arena. That would’ve pushed the film into great territory, somewhere along the lines of “Election” with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick.
WARNING! Red Band Trailer includes foul language and crude sexual references.