Bad Words

Directed By: Jason Bateman

Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, Ben Falcone, Rachael Harris, and Rohan Chand

Spelling bees aren't the riveting stuff that make movies great.  It takes a strong director and an equally strong cast to pull off a movie about a bee.  After all, every film can't be Akeelah and the Bee and make the orthography of the word "xanthosis" thrilling cinematic material.  That's why there have been so few movies about the world of competitive spelling.  By my count, Jason Bateman's Bad Words marks only the fifth feature film about them in all of cinematic history.  He's taking a different approach than Doug Atchison, however.  In his directorial debut, Bateman tries to bring the humor.

Guy Thirlby (Bateman) is a 40 year-old genius who dropped out of the eighth grade.  He's decided to once again capitalize on his intellectual capital by competing in a qualifying competition for the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee.  Given that this grown man is competing against preteens in an academic setting, it's needless to say that Guy ruffles the feathers of a few parents and school officials by participating.  He still has one supporter in reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn).  After winning at the qualifying competition, Guy qualifies for the national competition.  There, he makes plenty of new nemeses, namely Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) and Dr. Bowman (Phillip Baker Hall).  Despite his charming personality, Guy somehow manages to make a new friend as well in fellow competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand).

Bad Words is a fun-to-watch raunchy comedy that spoofs the relatively sparse cannon of spelling bee movies.  Satirizing the friendship that develops between Akeelah and Dylan in Akeelah and the Bee, the film centers on the relationship between Bateman's Guy Trilby and Chand's Chaitanya Chopra.  Those of you who haven't see Akeelah and the Bee in the past eight years (i.e. a healthy chunk of moviegoers) may not have picked up on this.  That being said, some of the more satirical humor may be lost on those who don't see the parallels between the two films' central characters.  Regardless, Bateman and Chand make an amusing pair on screen with all their R-rated antics.

Beyond Bateman and Chand, the cast doesn't really gel as a whole.  As frequently disheveled reporter Jenny Widgeon, we have Kathryn Hahn giving the type of wild, zany performance we've come to expect from her.  As the rather stoic Golden Quill director Dr. Bernice Deagan, we have a muted Allison Janney.  As Dr. Bowman, the cranky professor synonymous with the spelling bee, we have Phillip Baker Hall giving us the grumpy old man he always portrays on screen.  Moreover, the supporting cast just doesn't click as a unit, and this undermines the comedy.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a few chuckles in Bad Words.  Still, I believe the movie isn't as funny as it could be.  Because the cast doesn't have particularly great chemistry, the movie never fully realizes its potential.  Bad Words gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.