Spelling Bees are something of a mystery to most Americans. They're primarily for children, they're extremely hard, we secretly admire them while openly mock them and our fascination is prevelent in the amount of movies that we've made about them. There are shockingly a lot. Bad Words is the latest and it's about a grown man who enters a national spelling bee for a hidden agenda and bullies his way to the finalizes. The premise is set up for us in a rather funny opening five minutes, which is the last time the film is any good.
Actor Jason Bateman used to be someone that I would go see and support in whatever he does. He's been great in films like Juno and Horrible Bosses but I think we all agree that Arrested Development is where he's the best. But lately, I'm getting tired of seeing him play the same smug character in every film. It was funny but now it's getting old. He plays that part so often that I'm starting to think that that's just him and nowhere might that be more evident than in Bad Words, which is also his directorial debut.
Now, for a first attempt at directing, Bateman does a pretty good job. He keeps the film small and intimate and that's fun to see. The problem is that it's simply not funny. Along the way, Bateman's grumpy, spiteful character befriends another contestant, who's forgotten by his parents, played pleasantly by Rohan Chand (The Lone Survivor, Jack and Jill). Their friendship is crucial to give the vapid emptiness of the film some sort of heart but feels incredibly forced, disingenuous and completely unrealistic in what they do.
The title isn't false advertising; the language is as filthy as you'd hear in any Quentin Tarantino picture. It's also just as racist. Now, I'm not a prude and I enjoy edgy, raunchy comedy but Bad Words feels like it was a writer's hateful diary written into a screenplay and then passed off as comedy to soften the blow. Bateman's hate and cruelty toward the children ceases to be funny early in the film and ends up just feeling like you're watching a grown man bully children. His friendship with Chand and revealed motivation isn't enough to justify any of it by a longshot.
Bad Words is bad enough that IT lowers Bateman's stock with me by a lot. It makes me wonder what it was about this script that made him not only want to be this awful character but to direct this as well. I appreciate passion projects for actors I respect, even when they're poorly done. This, however, is a first in that it's so unfunny that it makes me judge his passion and judgement for future projects he does. You don't have to be a champion speller to know this film S-U-C-K-S.