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Review: Bad Words (and Q&A with Jason Bateman)

Like Role Models meets Akeelah and the Bee

Bad Words is a dark comedy about Guy, an impulsive man-child who uses a loophole to enter a Children's Spelling Bee. It is the directorial debut of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), who also stars as Guy, who reluctantly befriends Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), a smart, but innocent 10-year old competing in the same competition.

While the premise puts the characters into comedic situations, an uneven tone and the fact that the funniest bits have been spoiled by the marketing make the result a little disappointing. The film swings from shocking humor, to melancholy drama. It's got the bleakness of The Hangover Part II but with heartfelt emotional stakes. While we are meant to empathize with Bateman's immature character, he can often come off as mean spirited and unlikeable. I feel like the humor coming from casual racism, gross out gags, and profanity was better done in Bad Grandpa.

Bateman did a good job as director, including some great slow-motion sequences set to an awesome soundtrack. Yet I don't feel that he was right for the role. We've gotten too used to him playing the straight man who we can relate to. Because we typecast him in our minds, it becomes unpleasant to see someone we want to love acting so unlikeable. Chand, on the other hand, is delightful as the positive young Spelling Bee competitor.

In the third act, a small twist (though predictable) is effective at elevating the stakes and creating an interesting dynamic between the characters. While the film may be uneven, it is definitely risky, and has some funny moments, and some well done moments of drama.

Movie Rating: 6.5/10 Stars

After the screening, there was a Q & A with Director/Star Jason Bateman who used the opportunity to sort of defend his film. He talked about how much fun it was "trying to figure out how to tell a joke with an edit, a lens, or a lighting choice."

He acknowledged that there are "plenty of movies with more obvious growth and more likable characters, but we're trying to make something targeted to the niche audience with a specific, dark sense of humor."

Jason Bateman at the Q and A

Bateman stressed that he "didn't want to do something safe [he] was gonna take on this responsibility," and that "it's interesting to [him] to create characters that are doing wrong in a way you can empathize with, so that you see why they think what they're doing is right."

Someone brought up the pretty substantial use of voiceover in the film. There is a scene halfway through that is a "tough scene for [him] to watch. It gets a little uncomfortably long. So, we added voice-over  to explain his actions, and changed the music to make it a little less threatening." "Voice-over is a crutch," he admitted, "but it can be pretty darn efficient."

Other things I learned were that if Bateman had to choose between acting and directing, he would choose directing, and his wife didn't like the film's poster (a close-up of his lips mid expletive) but it's necessary to set the tone for the audience.

Bad Words opens in theaters this Friday, March 13th.

Review: Need For Speed

Like Fast and Furious meets Rush without coherent dialogue or plot

Aaron Paul gets behind the wheel. Watch a Behind the Scenes Clip above.

Need for Speed is the upcoming movie adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name. It seems like a cynical move, cashing in on a pre-established brand name and the success of the Fast and Furious franchise. Yet with director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) and Emmy-winner Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), it seemed like they might be able to pull off a smart, car-racing drama, in the vein of Ron Howard's under-appreciated Rush. The result, however, is filled with some awesome racing sequences, and lots of cliches.

What worked: The car races are loud, intense, and a hell of a lot of fun. Waugh opted to film all of the car stunts practically, even putting his actors through stunt driving school to get shots of them actually driving. It pays off in the action sequences, as does his guerrilla style of shooting. You can tell that the expensive car you are watching is really flipping through the air with an expensive camera strapped onto it. There is a stunt about midway through (that has kind of been spoiled in the marketing) that will make your jaw drop, and it makes the climax seem a little underwhelming in comparison. There were also some really gratifying moments of triumph were the music sweeps over you. Finally, Aaron Paul is good as the talented and stern racer, though he is given pretty simple dialogue to work with. 

What didn't work: Almost all of the dialogue is pretty bad, and the plot doesn't make any sense. That's 100% not the reason anyone goes to see Need for Speed, though, so it doesn't really matter. The movie falls into a lot of generic action movie cliches, especially when it comes to the romantic subplot with Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment). The comedic relief from Scott Mescudi (aka "Kid Cudi") and Michael Keaton (Bettlejuice) is weird and it falls a little flat. And, although it is to be expected, this film has the most blatant product placement since The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I'm talking about 5% of the movie being devoted to closeups of the car logos, and people going on about how great that brand's cars are.

Overall, Need for Speed is just OK. The plot and dialogue are mediocre, but the action is really great, especially the racing scene at the midpoint of the movie. The visuals of the film are made even more impressive because of the fact that all of the stunts were preformed without the use of CGI. Check it out if you're in the mood for some dumb, nonsensical, car-racing fun.

Need for Speed comes out March 14th.

Rating: 2/5 Stars