Movie Review
Bad Words
Bad Words poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published March 13, 2014
US Release: March 14, 2014

Directed by: Jason Bateman
Starring: Kathryn Hahn , Allison Janney , Jason Bateman

R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 88 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $7,764,000
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The result is a wasted opportunity that should’ve done much more with the concept.
For those hoping that the PG-13 trailer was hiding most of the good material behind this movie, prepare to be disappointed. For those who have seen the R-rated trailer, you’ve seen most of the gags. Bad Words is kind of a poor man’s imitation of Billy Madison meets Bad Santa. From the trailers, we’re led to believe this could be an amusing or even sporadically funny edgy comedy about a grown man cheating little kids in a contest, but the result is a wasted opportunity that should’ve done much more with the concept. Jason Bateman behind the camera as first-time director isn’t so much to blame because his style and tone is actually decent and when it first started I thought this could actually be pretty good because the cinematography, music and editing was very competent and he was doing a good job setting a tone. The problems lie in the screenplay by Andrew Dodge and Bateman’s own acting.

One of the biggest problems is that it’s just not funny besides a few quick chuckles, and it thinks that just being mean-spirited is hilarious, and most of the mean-spirited jokes aren’t amusing. Bateman is also a one-note actor and comedian and does a poor job of making you side with his role. His character is a complete asshole who lacks a heart and he doesn’t have the acting chops to pull off the well-balanced ruthless-but-nice structure behind Bad Santa. Billy Bob Thornton is a fantastic actor and he made the script behind Santa funnier and endearing. Thornton played an anti-hero who you’re not supposed to like but he turned it into someone you did like despite all the nastiness. Bateman’s character hates everybody, including little kids, and just wants to be left alone all the time and there’s no depth behind him unlike Thornton’s role. Thornton also had comic timing genius and was able to take an unlikable person on the page and turn it into somebody you identified with around the holidays and he was also working from a smart script. All Bateman can manage to play is bitter and unhappy and mean with one deadpan face and it doesn’t work, and the words he’s given on the page aren’t even funny to begin with so you just sit there bitter yourself.

The whole story is about his participation in a children’s spelling bee contest because he has a gift with spelling anything under pressure, especially long and confusing terminology that anybody would struggle with, and he wants to make easy money, and he found a loophole in the system that has allowed him to compete with young children. Many of the biggest punch-lines involve the lame attempts he pulls to derail little kids from competing against him, which should illicit big laughs in rudeness but the screenplay is too lightweight. For an R-rated comedy about a cruel rebel, the material is too safe and you just sit there sighing at the attempts. The big bright point is the little Indian kid who befriends him in spite of the fact that Bateman doesn’t want any friends. The kid is a far better actor than Bateman is at the general material and comes off very cool and very sweet, which makes you wish that Bateman’s role was written much better. Their relationship together is very much like Bad Santa but isn’t developed enough to compare solidly. The trailers show the gist of their encounters and there’s not that much that the clips aren’t showing. If this had been a quality movie, the trailer would’ve hidden the goods so that we’d be surprised once we’re watching it. Their relationship had lots of potential but the screenplay doesn’t come close to fulfilling.

We live in a time when good, edgy R-rated comedies are in dire need for comic relief and this looked like it could’ve been a hard-R comedy that had the potential of surprising us if it was handled just right. It’s not even a hard-R comedy even though the studio attempted to make it look like one with the release of one R-rated preview. That trailer was a marketing ploy to make mean and irreverent audiences think this one had a chance to go even further with foul content, and the movie doesn’t go any further; those crude jokes are all they have here. I didn’t have high or even solid hopes for this comedy, but the mostly positive reviews were in fact promising. I chuckled once or twice at the beginning and once or twice at the end, and otherwise just sat there. It doesn’t come close to the chuckle and laugh ratio behind Billy Madison and Bad Santa, and I can’t imagine too many casual-paying moviegoers chuckling that much or even having one belly laugh here. That probably should’ve been suspected considering this wasn’t picked up by a major distributor, as Focus Features bought it after it played at the film festivals and this is an odd choice for them to distribute. They’re usually an art-house company that has nothing to do with laughs, and fittingly, there are none.
Lee's Grade: C
Ranked #43 of 111 between American Sniper (#42) and A Million Ways... (#44) for 2014 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3022 graded movies
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'Bad Words' Articles
  • Craig's review B-
    April 2, 2014    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. -- Craig Younkin