Bad Words — 4/10

BAD WORDS (2014, Jason Bateman)

Bateman’s eminently forgettable directorial debut suffers more from a lame script than it does from the incompetence of a first-time filmmaker. Behind the camera, Bateman seems to be perfectly solid in terms of pacing and cutting a well-staged series of comic scenes, but when the jokes aren’t there, jokes won’t magically appear. A few funny lines aside, delivered with reliable straight-faced under-acting from a lead known for letting others chew scenery, there isn’t much to laugh at in a predictable story about an asshole who learns to be nice thanks to the friendship of a lovable little kid.

We’ve seen this plot before in BAD SANTA, but the acidic vitriol of Zwigoff’s poisonous Christmas comedy was gloriously over-the-top. Here, there’s nothing much worse than giving an 11-year old a sip of whiskey. Not that this needed audacity to work, but when there aren’t any interesting supporting characters (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but even Kathryn Hahn manages to be ineffective), there needs to be something extra in the central relationship. Maybe Bateman needs to be more selfish as an actor these days — get back to the aggressiveness of his scene-stealing supporting turns in films like STATE OF PLAY and HANCOCK — but whatever it is, this film just passively cruises by and disappears into thin air.

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