Bad Words is a surprisingly simple and uninventive comedy that relies on the shock of hearing a grown man swear in front of children. It’s not only that the concept isn’t very new, but that it ultimately carries no thematic resonance past a basic, traditional story of self-discovery. The story focuses on Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), who finds a loophole in the National Spelling Bee rules and wins his way through most of the precursors. Parents are outraged, spelling bee organizers are furious, but according to him and his lawyer, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), everything he is doing is legal and within the guidelines. Along the way he encounters a young Indian child played by Rohan Chand, best known for his parts in Lone Survivor and television’s Homeland. They become an unconventional pairing that forms an “odd couple” of sorts, but it’s one built on a lot of harsh rhetoric from Guy. It also allows for him to call the kid “slumdog,” and craft every female character in the film as if they are nagging and obsessive.
In a day and age when comedies can challenge gender and race roles, why subject an audience to such one-dimensional, racist, and homophobic characterizations and dialogue? The movie has its bouts of strong humor when it emphasizes the eccentricities of his situation and what he is doing, but when it ultimately carries little meaning and becomes genuinely mean-spirited, it feels insincere and grating. Bateman is a very funny comedian, an actor that has shown through many films and television roles that he is a talented performer. He has capabilities behind the camera here, but the script by Andrew Dodge is horribly misguided and aggressive. The movie’s inept and unfocused, and when the reasoning behind the bee is revealed in the final half hour, it’s a major letdown. Bad Words is a self-explanatory title that delivers little more than what it promises.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)