It’s another slow week for home video, as the only major theatrical release moving to the small screen is an offbeat comedy anchored by Jason Bateman.
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
Jason Bateman makes his feature film directing debut with an eclectic comedy that scores points for originality despite minor problems with consistency and tone. The movie, written by Andrew Dodge, tells the story of Guy Trilby (Bateman), a jaded forty-something who exploits a technicality in the rules of the Golden Quill national spelling bee and ruthlessly competes against grammar school children.
The competition is intended for youngsters, and its bylaws specifically state that the bee is open only to competitors who are yet to complete eighth grade. Since Guy was a grammar school dropout, the wording makes him eligible despite the intentions of the rule.
National spelling bees are so competitive that many adults would have a difficult time holding their own, but Guy is also a genius with words, making his age a legitimate advantage. Naturally, none of this sits well with the organizers of the bee, Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) and Dr. William Bowman (Philip Baker Hall), especially since the event is being televised for the first time. Nevertheless, Guy presses the issue, and a reporter, Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), supports his quest, believing it will result in a wonderful story.
“Bad Words” is frequently entertaining, and Bateman delivers some solid gags both as an actor and director. Sadly, the project has a split personality. On one hand, it’s a raucous story about an ill-mannered, middle-aged man who will do anything to win, even if it means destroying the self-esteem of younger rivals. On the other hand, “Bad Words” shoots for more than shock value. The movie has a surprisingly dark and dramatic core that broaches issues ranging from the true cost of revenge to the importance of solid parent-child relationships. Unfortunately, Bateman doesn’t get the balance right.
The movie follows three basic tracks during its 90-minute run, and none of them are fully exploited. The first track focuses on Guy’s unrelenting drive to win the competition. The second, and arguably most important track, centers on Jenny’s efforts to uncover Guy’s motivation. The third adds another element, with Guy striking up a friendship with a talented, young competitor (Rohan Chand).
The movie’s funniest moments deal with the incongruity of an ill-tempered man-child battling babes. Bateman also milks some great moments from the outrage that concerned adults display. At these moments, the film is best described as a broad and outrageous “cringe comedy” of the type Judd Apatow might produce.
The film slows considerably, however, when focused on Guy’s history and interpersonal relationships. Bateman seems concerned about the prospect of turning his audience off, so Guy is never as over-the-top or off-putting as the lead characters in similar movies, like “Bad Grandpa” and “Bad Santa.”
In a sense, Bateman’s strategy works. Despite the awful things Guy does (often repeatedly), it feels reasonable to empathize with the man and even forgive his most egregious transgressions. The fact that Bateman is a likable actor with a great deal of personal charm magnifies this effect, and it should keep viewers involved in the movie. Interestingly enough, it also dampens the comedic moments, making the material feel darker, deeper and less funny than it actually is.
The end result is a movie that walks an awkward line between comedy and drama. It is frequently funny, but never outrageously so. It also delves into serious territory but fails to shed real light on the issues it attacks. That leaves viewers with a work that lacks perspective despite very real strengths.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes and a commentary by Bateman.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II”: Danish director Lars von Trier is known as a provocateur, and his “Nymphomaniac” films reinforce that image. Von Trier’s uncut version of “Nymphomaniac” runs five and a half hours, but the project was trimmed to four hours and broken into two movies for distribution in America, but it’s not just the length that has attracted attention. The unrated movie earned headlines for featuring scenes of big-name actors having unsimulated sex. The actors – including Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe and Christian Slater – did not have actual sex, however. Von Trier first shot sequences with his stars, then shot sequences featuring pornographic actors. He then digitally melded the footage, making it look as though his stars were having intercourse. Because of the racy nature of the product, the plotting is often overshadowed by the hype, but there is a story. It centers on Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin), a self-diagnosed sex addict who, after being badly beaten, tells the story of her erotic life.
“The Raid 2”: This sequel to writer-director Gareth Evans’ 2011 action movie, “The Raid: Redemption,” is set shortly after the original. This time, officer Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover with the intention of destroying the crime syndicate that has infiltrated his police force. As with the first film, “The Raid 2” is presented primarily in foreign languages with English subtitles.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune”: In the mid-1970s, filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make his most ambitious movie to date, an epic adaptation of novelist Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” Despite a considerable investment of time and money, the project stalled. In “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” director Frank Pavich details the failed efforts.
“Jackass Presents – Bad Grandpa .5”: Direct-to-video movie assembled from “Bad Grandpa” outtakes. According to star Johnny Knoxville, director Jeff Tremaine had to cut many of the “Candid Camera”-style pranks from the original film because they didn’t make sense with the story. This movie puts the spotlight on those bits. The main attraction, of course, is still Knoxville’s alter ego, the bad boy octogenarian Irving Zisman.
“Stage Fright”: Horror film about a musical theater camp that comes under attack from a serial killer. Allie McDonald, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver and Meat Loaf Aday star. Written and directed by Jerome Sable.
“The Class of ’92”: Documentary focused on former Manchester United soccer stars David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes. In the movie, directed by Benjamin Turner and Gabe Turner, the players recall their glory days.
“How It All Began”: Documentary about master Mantak Chia’s work in founding the Healing Tao system of martial arts in the United States.
“Wings – Sky Force Heroes”: Animated movie about a firefighting plane who gets the opportunity to redeem himself after making a life-changing mistake. The voice cast includes Josh Duhamel, Hilary Duff, Rob Schneider and Tom Skerritt. Directed by Tony Tang and Mychal Simka.
“Lake Placid”: Collector’s Edition release of director Steve Miner’s 1999 horror film about a prehistoric crocodile that wreaks havoc on a previously peaceful lake. Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson and Betty White star.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.