Having built a nice résumé as a comedic actor, Jason Bateman turned again to comedy for his first directing effort, Bad Words. And he generated one of the best acting performances from his leading man, also Jason Bateman.
Unfortunately, the movie stumbles in its later stages. But Bad Words ($29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo) is often a darkly entertaining movie, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the similarly titled Bad Santa.
Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who exploits a loophole to compete in a national spelling bee. His competitive style takes no prisoners, trash-talking competitors one-fourth his age, turning even nastier when adults confront him. He doesn't even honor the conventions of a spelling bee, matter-of-factly spelling any word thrown at him without requests for derivation or use in a sentence.
Of course, he has a reason for his actions, which becomes clear late in the film — and that's one of its least interesting aspects. He also has to contend with a young player (Rohan Chand) who is immune to Trilby's insults and determined to make him a friend. You can figure out the remaining broad strokes of the movie, although a detail here and there might surprise.
Working with a script by Andrew Dodge, Bateman has created a grubby and grim film. It is helped considerably by the supporting cast, including Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall and Kathryn Hahn. It hooked me quickly, and it kept me engaged most of the time, even when Trilby's tactics were cringe-inducing.
Extras include commentary by Bateman, deleted and extended scenes, and a making-of piece.