Rated: R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 28, 2014 Released by: Focus Features
Jason Bateman is up from last year's hit Identity Thief with a subversive, above-average contemporary feature-film less undisciplined and labored that could be considered a variation on Bad Santa by way of the documentary Spellbound.
His first foray behind the camera, Bad Words, doesn't really struggle in its modulation of mood from a viable setup and displays some verve with material that isn't really fresh.
His character, Guy Trilby, is a fortyish misanthrope (perhaps a cousin to Billy Bob Thornton's unkempt holiday figure, Willie), takes advantage of his limited education to take on not only pre-secondary school children in The Golden Quill spelling bee.
Scenarist Andrew Dodge shows Guy's unlikely rise and alliance with happy-go-lucky, feisty Indian-American competitor Chaitanya (Rohan Chand of Cable TV's Homeland) that proves rather amusing and watchable, not just because of his foul-mouthed demeanor. The wit and charisma is evident from the way the actor-director handles the proceedings, not trying to dilute or cheapen it in the final going of what moves at a rather breezy clip. A nice repartee develops between these disparate characters even if its effect on the protagonist's arc allows for sentimental to fizzle in.
Its like-ability extends to a supporting cast including Allison Janney as a stern representative of the contest that outrages parents and staff as Guy swathes through awkward youngsters and gets to battle you-know-who in the climax. Philip Baker Hall exudes pithy formality as 'The Big Man' and Kathryn Hahn (We're The Millers, Wanderlust) arguably impresses the most as Jenny, a journalist who aims to close in on the true intentions of the gall that Guy possesses.
"Bad Words" obviously doesn't aim high and Bateman seems to know how to darken things without going too far. From being in front of the camera in stuff like The Kingdom to June as well as on the small-screen in Arrested Development he allows what could have been another raunchy mediocre comedy a plucky, rather inviting atmosphere. One that could spell unexpected word-of-mouth business for a less lucrative production this early spring.