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Bad Words Review. Fails To Deliver The Knockout Punch

Bad Words Review
By: Matt Cummings

The spelling bee from Hell comedy Bad Words is mostly fun, but fails to deliver the knockout punch.

Actor Jason Bateman has made a fortune playing nice guys who get wrapped up in craziness - his newest release Bad Words sees him move to the director's chair to craft a crass and ugly spelling bee comedy that fails to hold our attention.

Guy Tribly (Bateman) starts the movie by telling us "I'm not good at a lot of things, especially thinking things through." An angry 40-something, Guy's been traveling the country appearing at spelling bee competitions to outclass the event's directors via a loophole that allows him to participate. His most-recent victory earns him the wrath of local parents as they chase him to his car. But Guy's on a mission, dragging the online blogger Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) with him, whose site is paying his entrance fees and hotels. While she attempts to figure out his backstory, Guy appears at the national tournament, meeting the 11-year old Chaitainya (Rohand Chand) who he takes on a wild evening of drinks, pranks, and 'meetings' with prostitutes. As the two prep for the big dance, Guy's ruthlessness has no limits, enraging the national director (Phillip Baker Hall) who doesn't realize Guy's motives until it's too late.

The film's best scenes are those involving Guy playing offensive tricks on unsuspecting kids (the ketchup in the girl's seat, the gift of spent panties to a boy). But at its heart, Bad Words is an ugly film that seems to make no pretense about its intentions. Bateman and Writer Andrew Dodge craft an acidic picture where no one is really worthy of our time; Chand is cute and should do well in future films, but even he's been manipulated by Dad in an effort to give him a chance against Guy. Hahn's personality comes out only when Bateman says so, which does include a couple of funny intercourse scenes where she demands that Guy not look at her while giving her the business. But as Guy's real intentions emerge, things get a little...weird. Soon, it's a revenge tale, centered around destroying the esteemed spelling bee, all because a daddy left his boy and mommy. When that complicated history arrives - crammed into too short a timeline - we can't decide who's more reprehensible, and that's a problem. Sure, Bateman butters the comedy bread with thick strokes, but we don't feel any better about its disconnected ending, nor do we ever empathize with Guy's motives. 

There's a sticky feeling to Bad Words, as if we're meant to feel every part of Guy's ugly world. In that small way, count it as a success. But as a memorable comedy, the film doesn't hold our attention once the reveal is cast. Considering it's Bateman's directorial debut, we're willing to grant him a pass, but we can't recommend it for anything other than a matinee. Considering the promise of a foul-mouthed and rudely-apportioned affair near film's beginning, we definitely deserved better. 

Bad Words is Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity and has a runtime of 88 minutes. 

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125

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