It's hard to think of any good words to describe Bad Words.
Perhaps in an effort to shake his typical “good guy” role, Jason Bateman plays a foul-mouthed asshole in his directorial debut Bad Words. Most comedies can get by with a weak storyline as long as there’s enough laugh-out-loud moments. Unfortunately, Bad Words is neither clever nor funny. While it tries very hard to be funny, the film keeps its ambitions low in the story department, but manages to miss the target in both instances.
The film begins with Guy Trilby (Bateman) explaining how he perpetually makes bad decisions. He demonstrates how much of an understatement that is by taking the stage to compete in an eighth grade spelling-bee. That’s right, this grown man finds a wacky loophole in the rule book that states anyone who hasn’t passed the eighth grade is eligible to compete. Naturally, the parents at the school feel outraged by his decision to exploit the rule.
Not helping his case is that Trilby is a complete asshole to everyone around him. Which includes a journalist named Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) who is strangely attracted to him even though he repeatedly treats her like garbage. Same goes for the ridiculously cute Indian-American Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a fellow 10-year-old competitor who desperately wants to befriend Trilby despite constantly being insulted. Instead of just reciting obscenities, Trilby one-ups his own douchery by being racist as well. On a couple of occasions he calls the kid Slumdog, threatens to slaughter his sacred cow, and tell him to “shut his curry hole”. Yes, the film IS called Bad Words, but rather than focus on using derogatory words, the film stoops to adults making racists remarks to kids.
The screenplay ended up on the Black List, a collective list of the “best” un-produced scripts in Hollywood, though it’s so full of contrived situations it’s hard to understand how. For example, Jenny sleeps with Trilby for plot purposes only as she never gets an ounce of respect from him. Also, Chaitanya’s parents make the 10-year-old fly coach while they enjoy first-class and force him stay in his own room on a separate floor in the hotel, making it very convenient for the protagonist and the boy to bond. And it just so happens that this is the first year they’re televising the spelling-bee to millions of people.
Those familiar with Bateman’s character from Arrested Development will see some flashes of Michael Bluth’s sarcastic wit, but without any of the kindness or humor. Other comedies with a bad lead character like Bad Santa and Bad Teacher work because at some point we are given a reason to care. But Bateman’s character is such a jerk that it’s nearly impossible to care about him or why he is even competing in this contest. And while Hahn is adequate in her role as the journalist/love-interest, her character, like most in the film, is completely unnecessary to the story.
It’s hard to think of any good words to describe Bad Words. There are a couple decent scenes in the film that may earn a couple chuckles — namely when the two rivals pull pranks on each other at the hotel — but otherwise it’s mostly filled with cringe-worthy moments. His reasons for entering the contest is kept a mystery the entire time and when it’s finally revealed it’s an eye-roller. To top it all off, the motivations for everything that happens in the film don’t even make sense once all the cards are on the table. Unlike Bad Santa where the jokes are funny and the bad protagonist has some sympathetic qualities, Bad Words is just bad.