'Bad Words' review: Michael Bluth: Very angry, pretty funny

'Bad Words'

'Bad Words' (March 12, 2014)

**1/2 (out of four)

Any "Arrested Development" fan knows how well Jason Bateman can do resentment. The harder Michael Bluth (Bateman) tries to pretend he doesn't care about his family, the stronger the pull to come back and show them what's what.

In "Bad Words," the actor's directorial debut, Guy (Bateman) has a similar chip on his shoulder. For reasons that slowly become clear throughout the film in an annoyingly textbook-like fashion, the 40-year-old Guy has exploited a loophole to force his way into the national spelling bee that normally includes no one past eighth grade. Technically, he never passed, so he's eligible, and as you'd expect, no one is happy about this. Contestants' parents want him scorned. The bee's head honcho (Allison Janney) assures he won't last. A journalist (Kathryn Hahn) tags along, financing Guy's travels, begging him for his agenda and, occasionally, sleeping with him and screaming, "Do not look at me!" Only 10-year-old competitor Chaitainya (Rohan Chand) wants a friendship with Guy, who responds with profanity and racism. It's almost like this guy watched "Bad Santa" and "Bad Teacher" and modeled his personality accordingly.

Bateman shows a lot of good instincts as a director. Though first-time writer Andrew Dodge's script goes to some extreme places, Bateman keeps the comedy restrained and the tone focused. He's less attuned to the story elements. Cheap voiceover appears throughout the movie; Guy's cruelty and lazy bigotry grow tiresome; many subplots are underplayed to the point of insignificance. Hahn ("Parks and Recreation," "Our Idiot Brother"), ever a valuable supporting player, isn't allowed to give her character a backbone.

Yet it's all about the relationship between Guy and Chaitainya, which is both hilarious and unexpectedly tender. "Bad Words" is a movie about loneliness and kids in need of better parenting, not to mention a ridiculous buddy flick involving an adult who dishes out a vivid verbal takedown of a stranger's vagina and a kid who gets drunk and debates whether all women have nipples. A dark comedy that can make us believe in the friendship between a wounded jerk and a lost child is doing something right. Well, you know what I mean.

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mpais@tribune.com

 

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