Flix: 'Bad Words' is g.o.o.d.

March 26, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2014 at 10:26 p.m.

Jason Bateman directs and stars in "Bad Words."

Jason Bateman directs and stars in "Bad Words."

Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut with this wickedly funny new comedy, "Bad Words." The movie is about 40-year-old Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) who finds a loophole that lets him compete against a bunch of 10-year-olds in the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee.

Rule No. 24 states "The speller must not have passed the eighth grade on or before Feb. 1," and Guy points out to the judges that he has not passed the eighth grade - ever.

It doesn't matter that the parents of his prepubescent competitors are enraged; the judges have no choice but to let him compete - and Guy plans to win by any means necessary.

Sure, he can spell words like "absquatulate," but Guy also uses other methods to psyche out his fellow contestants.

In one scene, he hands a kid a pair of women's underwear and tells him, "Can you give these to your mother? She left those in my room last night, and she was very sweet. I want you to know that. She held me afterward, and she's a nice woman."

And in another scene, he does something so atrocious to this poor young lady that it causes her to run off the stage in tears. You almost feel guilty laughing at these jokes, but seeing Jason Bateman deliver these punch lines in his low-key, deadpan style is just hilarious.

The rest of the cast is also very funny.

Kathryn Hahn plays Jenny Widgeon, a reporter who sponsors Guy in exchange for his exclusive story. She spends most of the film trying to figure out why Guy is determined on winning the spelling bee while crushing these little kids' dreams.

Her funniest scenes take place in a janitorial supply closet with Guy. Allison Janney appears as Dr. Bernice Deagan, the spelling bee's director, and she is good, but it's such a small role that it should have been expanded to give Janney more scenes.

Then, there's Guy's fiercest competitor, the always-positive 10-year-old Indian kid, Chaitanya Chopra, played by Rohan Chand.

Rohan was the young boy who helped Mark Wahlberg's character in "Lone Survivor." When we first meet Chaitanya, he's flying in coach - his parent's are flying first class - and he's seated directly in front of Guy.

He turns around in his seat and starts to ask Guy a million questions. This, of course, doesn't sit well with Guy, and he informs the kid to "turn around or I'll tell the captain your backpack is ticking." Most of what spews out of Guy's mouth is not politically correct, and watching little Chaitanya let every foulmouthed insult bounce off him while remaining positive is very funny. Rohan is such a talented child actor, and he is so adorable, which plays well against Bateman's mean-spirited Guy.

Later at the hotel, they run into each other again, and it turns out that Chaitanya is staying by himself in the room while his parents stay at a much nicer hotel across town (they tell him it's to help build his character).

When Guy finds out there's a minibar in the kid's room, he raids it, and the two start to hit it off as buddies.

Together, they get into all sorts of trouble, and the evening is capped off when Guy pays a hooker to show her breasts to the kid because he doesn't believe all girls have nipples. The two of them become very close, even though Guy won't admit it, and during the film's finale, they are hysterical.

Even though Bateman's character remains crude and angry through most of the film, a little ray of light shines through in the final act that proves that Guy does have a tender side.

Just like Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa," this dark comedy will be very funny to some people and offensive to others, but the performances are great, and it turns out that Bateman is a pretty decent director. I loved his use of slow motion and the Beastie Boys to intensify one scene.

STARS: 3 1/2

Joe Friar is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society, juror at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival (VTXIFF) and host of the Breakfast Buzz morning show on Hit Radio 104.7. Contact Joe at jfriar95@gmail.com.



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