"Bad Words" Review: Craig's First Take

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Jason Bateman stars as a spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.
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Remember “Bad Santa”? Of course you do. Well just replace “Santa” with “Words” and witness a movie directed by Jason Bateman that seems fine enough, just not nearly as subversive and daring as the one about crabby Saint Nick.

Bateman also stars in the film as Guy Trillby, a 40-year-old man who happens to be a genius, but also rank with poor choices and a mediocre job. Ironically one of the positives in his life is that he never passed the eighth grade, which makes him eligible for Spelling Bee competitions.

To the chagrin of both the parents and its director (Allison Janney), the National Spelling Bee has no choice but to let Guy enter, after having earned his place, complete with newspaper sponsorship from an online reporter (Kathryn Hahn) following Guy because there is more of a story here than we really know.

Bateman can do rudeness well and if you find emotionally scarring children funny, there are a couple of real doozies in here. Some will say he’s unlikable and I’ll agree, that’s the point, but there is also a mystery about the character and a lot of fun in watching him continue to put one over on uptight academics.

There’s also a cute little kid named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand); friendless and tossed back in coach while his parents are living it up from his winnings, Guy becomes the crude friend who shows the kid how to live a little bit, including fostering his fascination with female nipples.

This is all fairly entertaining, but doesn’t push as far as you feel it should or leave you with that warm and fuzzy feeling when you leave. Maybe it’s just because “Santa” did it so well that the edge can only feel less so now. For a movie with not much plot, “Bad Words” hinges on being offensive and while it sporadically knows how to do that, as a whole it just doesn’t seem as sure of itself.