DIRECTED BY Jason Bateman
STARS Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn
Jason Bateman and Rohan Chand in Bad Words. (Photo: Focus Features)
Jason Bateman makes his feature directorial debut with the acidic comedy Bad Words, and it must be noted that he does yeoman's work on the picture. His helming is competent but colorless, which in turn places more of a burden on the screenplay by first-timer Andrew Dodge. Despite its promising premise, Dodge's script is also merely perfunctory, not really adding much to the framework of a 40-year-old man who manages to anger everyone surrounding him. But this is where matters take a turn for the positive, since Bateman is not only sitting in the director's chair but also tackling the central role. And for those not averse to insult comedy, watching Bateman employ his deadpan demeanor, frosty stares and impeccable timing to amusingly berate others isn't a bad way to spend a brief 90 minutes.
Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, an aloof individual who has discovered a loophole that allows him to legally take part in The Golden Quill, a national spelling bee for young kids. Taking the stage alongside scores of 8th graders, he breezes through the words thrown his way, further ensuring his continued success by railroading his top challengers through despicable means. While a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) tries to ascertain Guy's reason for embarking on such a ludicrous venture, he's busy dealing with outraged parents, aggravated administrators and the offended creator of the venerable bee (Philip Baker Hall). Only one person, a perpetually cheerful lad named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), manages to chip away at his hardened exterior.
Bad Words is clearly jockeying to be another Bad Santa, but because it frequently pulls back from going too far, it lacks that picture's killer instinct. But many of Guy's R-rated retorts draw laughs, whether aimed at irritating moms, doofus dads or impressionable children. As for young Chand, he's absolutely charming, stealing ample scenes as the friendless Chaitanya (naturally nicknamed "Slumdog" by Guy). It's hard for a comedy to be truly merciless and mean when one of its stars is about as hard-edged as a basket of kittens.