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Entries in Jason Bateman (5)

Friday
Mar212014

Bad Words

Jason Bateman is one of the most likable people in Hollywood. We may not know how he acts in private, but in films, interviews and other public appearances, he comes off as a charming, lovable goof. It’s that considerable charm that pulls him through some of his otherwise lackluster film and television efforts (“Identity Thief” comes to mind). With this, one can’t help but wonder what he was thinking when he agreed to do “Bad Words.” He’s not good at being bad and, with this being his feature length directorial debut, he doesn’t have the directing chops to make up for it. Not since “Bad Teacher” has a central character been so vile, so hurtful, so unnecessarily mean that he manages to kill any goodwill the film may have had otherwise. It’s going to be hard to top this character’s repugnancy this year and it’s almost certainly destined to be one of the worst of the year.

Guy Trilby (Bateman) is a 40 year old man who finds a loophole in the national children’s spelling bee contest that allows him to enter as a contestant. He even has a sponsor, as all participants must, in the form of Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist for a nationally recognized online publication. She hopes to get to the root of his motivation, but he’s very reserved in that regard. He doesn’t want to reveal why he’s doing what he’s doing, but he has his reasons.

It’s a fairly weak plot with a thin narrative arc and an even thinner emotional one. Guy is unhappy and treats those around him poorly. To put it plainly, he’s a scumbag and it’s nearly impossible to care about him in any way. A good example of his personality comes early in the film when he’s on an airplane. A sweet Indian kid named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) starts talking to him, which, of course, is a minor inconvenience to him, so he proceeds to tell the kid to shut his “curry hole” or he’s going to tell the pilot his bag is ticking. While this is one of the more extreme examples of his pervasive boorishness, it nevertheless captures him well.

This wouldn’t be a problem if his actions were explained. More than anything else, this film needed a gradual reveal. Something needed to happen to open this hateful character up and reveal the man within to help the audience feel empathy, but that doesn’t appear to be on its agenda. Despite a tender moment or two, there’s no gradual reveal of Guy’s motivations. Instead, it’s merely said in passing. Without ruining the reveal itself, Jenny, being the journalist she is, figures out his motivation and his primary goal, to which he replies with the equivalent of, “Good job.” There’s no emotion in this scene, nothing to suggest that the man we see isn’t the man he wants to be.

In fact, when it appears he may build some goodwill, he promptly negates it with his puerile antics. Throughout the tournament, he manipulates kids around him into dropping out or otherwise losing, but as soon as he finds out someone has been manipulating him, he has a childish freak out. When the end rolls around, it’s shown that his actions have had zero repercussions and the closure he alludes to, which is the very reason he went on this strange journey, still appears to be out of grasp. He may take what some may consider the high road at a certain junction in the back half of the film, but it doesn’t negate the numerous low road decisions made prior.

It should also be mentioned that “Bad Words” simply isn’t funny. While a chuckle or two here and there may sneak its way out of some, the vileness of the character always serves as a reminder that the person you’re watching is more worthy of pity than laughs. Guy is a sad excuse for a man and an even sadder excuse for a character that we’re supposedly meant to root for. “Bad Words” is one of the most hateful, mean spirited comedies in recent memory and has close to zero redeeming factors.

Bad Words receives 0.5/5

Sunday
Feb102013

Identity Thief

Jason Bateman is one of the most underappreciated comedians in Hollywood, though he enjoys an almost cult-like following thanks to his days as Michael Bluth on TV’s Arrested Development. Melissa McCarthy is a fresh new face who wowed audiences with her hilarious performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids and who also enjoys a rather stern following thanks to her hit CBS show, Mike & Molly. Put these two talents together and you get Identity Thief, a supposed comedy that wastes both of them on a messy script that is almost completely devoid of any and all laughs. It’s a sad sight to see, such talent floundering around in such a disaster, but with the comedy genre offering little recently in the way of quality, one can only hope the two leads agreed to star because it was the only thing they were offered.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a lowly businessman in Colorado who manages his company’s in-house accounts, which, as his awful boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) puts it, a computer program could do. He’s not held in very high regard at his job despite his high quality of work, so when his co-worker, Daniel (John Cho), offers him a job at his new upstart company where he’ll be making five times what he’s making now, he immediately accepts. Besides, he has a loving wife (Amanda Peet) and two young children at home to take care of, with another on the way. However, he soon finds out his identity has been stolen by an unnamed woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy) who has taken part in illegal activities, confusing police and making him the prime suspect. This doesn’t look good for the company, so he makes an agreement with his boss and the local cop (whose jurisdiction doesn’t extend beyond Denver): if he can bring this woman to Colorado and have her confess, he’ll get to keep his job and the cops can close the case. They both agree, so he jets off to Florida to find her.

What follows is a predictable movie where the two seemingly opposite, initially at odds characters spark an eventual friendship and begin to appreciate each other, yet the narrative arc to those revelations is absurd to the extreme and mixes in bounty hunters, additional identity thefts, car chases and wildlife encounters. Because the proceedings are so outlandish, it’s hard to take what’s happening seriously, even if you manage to overlook the contrived set-up that sets them off on this adventure. The two, in and of themselves, aren’t particularly interesting characters either, or at least not as a pair. She’s a loud, obnoxious and colorful (in that she wears too much make-up) bore who flails her body around trying to wring out a laugh and he is a whiny, gullible idiot. It’s his own nitwittedness that got him to this point anyway—everyone knows not to give out personal information over the phone. She has wronged him to the point where his life is crashing down. His finances are depleted and services, like cable, that we all take for granted are getting shut off, so his eventual realization that, hey, she’s not such a bad person after all is unconvincing and trite.

However, this turn doesn’t come completely out of left field; the filmmakers certainly tried to realistically get them to that point. Early in the film, for example, this unnamed woman’s friendlessness and loneliness is established, however bluntly it may be (“They’re not your friends,” a bartender says as she uses Sandy’s money to milk the bar. “They just like you because you’re buying them drinks”), yet she’s such a vindictive and selfish woman that it fails to elicit any type of caring in the viewer. If Identity Thief has about ten percent of the emotion a good drama should have, it has about two percent of the laughs of a comedy equivalent. Because the characters are so unlikable, their shenanigans are barely diverting, much less funny and the film’s humor falls flat time and time again.

Its best moment comes when the characters act like real, decent human beings (imagine that). One excellent scene forces McCarthy to show her acting chops, going from goofy to sad and back again, and she pulls it off with grace, proving she has what it takes to carry a movie, even if this one will make her detractors say otherwise. Decrease the farce and make a real movie with a real message and Identity Thief could have proven to be something interesting, a movie that warms the heart and provides occasional laughs, but its over-the-top nature proves to be its downfall. It’s neither sweet nor funny. Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy and the movie going audience deserve a whole lot better than what this has to offer.

Identity Thief receives 1/5

Friday
Aug052011

The Change-Up

Redundancy in cinema is commonplace. There are only so many stories to tell and most films end up regurgitating story points from those that came before, but none seem more worn out than the “body switch” subgenre. It was tired well before now, but still we have The Change-Up to battle against. It’s a movie that requires very little of its audience, but in a marathon day where I sat through four different movies with this being the last one, mentally exhausted by the time it came around, I still found it inane and generally unfunny. Just think how much I could have hated it had I actually thought through it.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a lawyer who spends far too much time worrying about his job, despite his wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and three children (including twin babies) back home who need his attention. His best friend, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), on the other hand, lives alone, has no job (though he has just lined up an acting gig in a “lorno,” a light porno) and spends most nights with a different woman. One night, after a drunken bar visit, they talk about how great each other’s lives are, Dave jealous of Mitch’s carefree lifestyle and Mitch of Dave’s loving family. While simultaneously urinating in a fountain, they wish they could switch lives. When they wake up, they find their wish has come true. Dave is now in Mitch’s body and vice versa.

Despite its been-there-done-that feel, The Change-Up is not a bad idea. Its two lead stars are charismatic and different enough that it’s relatively fun watching them play each other. It’s hard to keep things straight sometimes when you’re watching Ryan Reynolds play Jason Bateman playing Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re familiar enough with their usual onscreen personas, you’ll get the jokes. Bateman, for instance, is usually typecast as your typical nice guy, but he’s definitely playing against type here. He’s loud, rude and abrasive, not at all like the straight man we’ve come to know over the years.

The problem is that the characters, no matter which body they are in, are unlikable. Before the switch, Dave complains about his life, defining his marriage to his wife and having their three children as a mistake. As he says, he “pissed away” his life. Mitch is despicable in another way. He’s a vulgar, misogynistic loser who disregards others and treats Dave’s children like dirt. After the body switch, he tells Dave’s daughter to always solve her problems with violence and he carries around the twins by the back of their necks like cats. His abusive tendencies towards those around him make him hard to sympathize with or, most importantly, laugh at, despite Bateman giving it his all. Of course, as is par for the course in these types of movies, both characters learn valuable life lessons that any viewer will be able to see coming from a mile away, but these late movie redemptions don’t forgive its mean-spirited attitude.

This particular body switch is the most interesting since Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, or at least it would have been had it not been assumed the film could be carried solely off watching the two actors play exaggerated versions of each other. I could complain about the unnecessary side story that has something do with Mitch’s father, played by Alan Arkin of all people, getting married, but I don’t think that matters to this movie’s target audience. If you’re wondering if that’s you, here’s a quick test. Within the first five minutes, one of Dave’s babies shoots poop into his mouth. Did you laugh?

The Change-Up receives 2/5

Friday
Mar182011

Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unquestionably one of the greatest comic duos working today. When separated, their abilities are easy to scrutinize (as seen with Pegg in the atrocious How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), but put them together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were grand slams, consider their latest, Paul, an inside-the-park home run. The reaction may be the same, yet you can’t help but feel like it isn’t entirely deserved.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are sci-fi nerds. They produce their own science fiction comic book, they staunchly believe in aliens and they even speak Klingon. Their dorky personalities mean they belong at one place: Comic-Con. And that’s where they are when the film begins. When the event is over, however, they embark on a tour of American UFO hot spots, only to accidentally run into an alien. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and he has just escaped Area 51 where the government was planning on cutting out his brain and studying it. He needs to get home, so he convinces Graeme and Clive to help him.

Paul is funny. Getting that statement out of the way seems necessary because that’s what most people want to know. Its primary goal is to make you laugh and it mostly succeeds. What disappoints the most about Paul, however, is that it also aims to be a satire of the science fiction genre, but mistakes satire for references. The film features some clever nods to everything from Mork & Mindy to Star Wars and includes a particularly funny bit that shows how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for his classic hit, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but aside from a few moments, like a great joke poking fun at how slow spaceships take off at the end of sci-fi movies, Paul doesn’t so much satirize as it does pay homage. Their previous, aforementioned films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, wickedly satirized the horror and action genres, and the former was even able to make an interesting statement on apathy in regards to a generation that lumbers around like they’re already dead. When compared, it’s easy to see that Paul is empty. It lacks the intellectual depth of those films and instead relies on four letter words to garner laughs.

So I suppose it’s good I’m immature. I couldn’t help but get a kick of the foul mouthed Paul, who in one breath denounces religion in front of a Bible thumping, trailer park owner, played by Kristen Wiig, who finds logic in what he says and begins to go down the path of impurity, which includes cursing for the first time (a trait for which she just can't find a rhythm). Along with Wiig, there’s a great supporting cast here, including, but not limited to, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. With the exception of Bateman, whose comedic talent is wasted playing the straight faced, no nonsense FBI agent, everybody lends some much needed help to the film by making otherwise unfunny jokes funny through their delivery.

The would-be best supporting player, however, the one who is known for playing one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time, is seen and not heard until the end, a reveal that would have been amusing had this person’s voice not been so recognizable. It’s a wasted opportunity and an easy laugh is lost, which is similar to how the whole movie plays out. Paul hits just enough right notes to be passable, but if you’re familiar with Pegg and Frost’s previous collaborations, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat underwhelmed.

Paul receives 3/5

Friday
Aug202010

The Switch

It’s the last major movie week of the summer. With five new releases, this week is filled with plenty of options, but none are more worthy of your time than The Switch, an affable, alluring movie that plays up the importance of love and family.

The film begins in New York City seven years ago. Best friends Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) are out to lunch when she drops a bomb. She’s aging and knows her biological clock is ticking. Without a relationship, she fears she may never have the opportunity to have a child, so instead of hopeful waiting, she has decided to artificially inseminate herself. While not too keen on the idea, Wally becomes even more shocked when Kassie tells him she is not going through a sperm bank. Instead, she is simply going to pay a donor of her choice for his seed and do it herself with a turkey baster. Before doing so, however, she has a celebratory party. Despite his reluctance, Wally shows up, but to deal with the event, he gets plastered. While in the bathroom relieving himself, he sees the cup of semen the donor has left and accidentally spills it. In his drunken stupor, he decides to fill it back up himself. Kassie moves away, claiming New York as an unfit place to raise a child, but seven years later moves back with her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). Remembering nothing of that fateful night so long ago, he starts to see strange similarities in personality and behavior between him and the kid and soon realizes that Sebastian is his son.

There’s a charm to The Switch that cannot be denied. It’s the type of film that isn’t entirely consistent with the laughs, but its heart and warmth are more than enough to make up for it. Aniston rebounds nicely from the disaster that was The Bounty Hunter and shows considerable appeal here. She’s beautiful, kind and loving, a wonderful mother that loves her child unconditionally. Others see him as weird, but she sees him as special. Some people think he’s neurotic. She thinks he’s merely a well adjusted introvert. She puts up with his eccentricities not because she has to, but because she doesn’t even notice them. He’s her son and that’s all that matters to her.

Meanwhile, a relationship is blooming between Sebastian and Wally. His past feelings for Kassie have always been there and his quiet admiration for her parenting skills is sweet, but the growing love he finds for his child is far more interesting. While both work on their own terms, the father/son relationship overshadows the romance. Wally knows there’s something special about this kid, even if he can’t put his finger on it right away. He bonds with Sebastian as soon as he and his mother arrive back in New York. Perhaps it was some type of father’s intuition, but he comes to love him before he even realizes he is his father. The build-up to that realization is lovely and Sebastian changes him forever.

The beauty of The Switch is that you can feel the love, pain and loneliness that come from the characters. Sebastian, for instance, collects picture frames. Instead of filling them with his own memories, he keeps the stock photos in them and creates a family. He has never known his father and copes with it by creating fantastical back stories for his made up relatives. He loves his mother, but he wants a father.

It’s something I’m sure many can relate to. It’s a ridiculous set-up, but the feeling is real. Too many have grown up without parents and would have done anything to know them. I’m fortunate enough to not have had that experience, but the The Switch still worked for me. It made me appreciate the family that I have and made me look forward to the day I can start my own. If that isn’t a remarkable accomplishment, I don’t know what is.

The Switch receives 4/5