Several ‘Bad Words’ too many
A two-star review of the Jason Bateman/Allison Janney dark comedy about a middle-aged man who enters an eighth-grade spelling bee.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Bad Words,’ with Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Ben Falcone, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney. Directed by Bateman, from a screenplay by Andrew Dodge. 88 minutes. Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity. Several theaters.
Take away the raunchy language, awkward sex scenes, creepy humor involving kids and too-obvious plot twist from “Bad Words,” and you’d have ... well, a very short movie that feels oddly like Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show,” but with kids in a spelling bee instead of canines in a dog show. Jason Bateman’s directorial debut is a very, very dark comedy in which a rather nasty 40-year-old guy named Guy (played by Bateman) talks his way into a national eighth-grade spelling bee as a way of working through his issues.
Said issues go unstated but are easily guessed, so much so that you find yourself, in the cadence of Kramer-as-Moviefone on “Seinfeld,” wondering “why don’t you just TELL [person with whom Guy has Issues] about your problems?” He doesn’t, because that would end the movie too soon. Rohan Chand, as a 10-year-old spelling whiz determined to befriend Guy, has a bright-eyed charm and quick timing, and Allison Janney (here playing the bee’s imperious boss) is always a welcome sight. But Andrew Dodge’s script never gives us a reason to care about Guy, and “Bad Words,” with its barrage of R-rated insults and creepy pranks, starts to feel awfully slow. It’s over long before it’s over, by the time you start wishing that a few of the dogs from “Best in Show” would show up; a one-note comedy, pounded with a hammer and left flat.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org