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Bateman goes dark, Captain steps up

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Bad Words


BAD WORDS. Since his resurgence on TV's Arrested Development (a handful of hilarious movie cameos notwithstanding), Jason Bateman has been remade as a sort of put-upon everyman/icon. With Ben Stiller becoming a victim of his own newfound sincerity, Bateman the new face face of frustrated good intentions, the likeable loser destined to catch a break, eventually. Not so with this, his feature debut as director/star, wherein he is almost wantonly unlikeable.

Bateman's Guy Trilby, a hard-drinking 40-year-old misanthrope, has something to prove. Having dedicated himself to learning esoteric words and exploiting the rulebook, Trilby is in the process of winning a regional spelling bee when the movie opens. His victory, along with his foul mouth and generally hateful demeanor, enrages the parents of his child opponents, as well as the event organizers. But there is little they can do to stop him, so it's off to Los Angeles for the national finals.

Accompanying Trilby is Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), a "reporter" for the news website bankrolling his venture. She tries to get inside his head, he refuses, and they engage in a series of off-putting sexual encounters. When they aren't in bed, he affords her zero respect or regard. Likewise Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a young competitor who attempts to befriend Trilby. The boy does make some inroads, but when his motives come into question it sparks an escalating conflict.

The protagonist's motivation for all of this is obscured through much of the movie, but its reveal doesn't come as much of a surprise. From that moment on, Bad Words switches from caustic, raunchy comedy to a maudlin drama about parenthood and perpetual adolescence. This is a jarring transition — as unpleasant and cruel as Trilby seems in the first two acts, he's still pretty funny. And an R-rated comedy is rare, so it feels like a disappointing bait and switch for one to dissolve into a predictable, safe ending like this.

The cast is solid, Bateman directs with a sure hand and there are some truly funny moments. But the uneven tone of the narrative and the surrender to sensitivity and likeability sacrifice much of the darkly enjoyable nastiness the movie promises early on. R. 89m.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. The first installment in this franchise left a minimal impression on me. I enjoyed the richness of the detail in its World War II setting, and I recall Hugo Weaving going stone crazy as a Nazi scientist, but that's about it. Having seen the trailer for part two — with neither World War II details nor insane war criminals — several dozen times, my enthusiasm was tempered. To my relief, The Winter Soldier is a much stronger, if unnecessarily long and noisy, movie than its predecessor.

Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America/Steve Rogers. He's doing his level best to get acclimated to life in the 21st century, but he's struggling. Warfare and loyalty don't seem to have the same meanings in the modern world as they did in the '40s. Right in the middle of his existential dilemma, unknown forces stage a seemingly fatal attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury tells the Captain to trust no one, and that the agency has been compromised. Soon enough, Captain America is a fugitive from his own agency, lamming it with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newfound ally the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). They must combat a sinister faction rising within S.H.I.E.L.D. that's planning preemptive drone genocide in the name of national security. Oh, and a Soviet-engineered super-soldier with a metal arm and no remorse (the fellow from the title).

As with any Marvel franchise movie, the plot is secondary to the quippy dialogue and set-piece action sequences, and I'm okay with that. Evans has grown into his starring role, and he'd be hard-pressed to ask for better supporting actors. And the airborne battle climax is pretty damned exciting. Even though it trades a historical setting for ultra-modern spy-craft, this is by far the more enjoyable Captain America (even at more than two and half hours). PG13. 136m.


DRAFT DAY. Kevin Costner is the general manager for the Cleveland Browns, wheeling and dealing to get the team he wants in this NFL pressure cooker. PG13. 109m.

THE LUNCHBOX. A chance encounter leads to strange pen pals in Mumbai. PG. 104m.

OCULUS. Karen Gillian tries to prove her parents were killed by a haunted antique mirror and clear her brother's name. Should ruin rummage sales for everyone. R. 105m.

THE RAID 2. Rama returns with a badge and a grudge. People are going to get kicked. R. 149m.

RIO 2. The birds visit the Amazonian jungle to spend time with the in-laws, sing, dance and battle the evil Nigel. G. 101m.


DIVERGENT. Veronica Roth's Myers-Briggs dystopia — in which extraordinary teens are targets of state oppression — gets the Hunger Games franchise marketing treatment. PG13. 139m.

GOD'S NOT DEAD. A devout college student debates his philosophy classmates and professor to prove God exists. It's harder to convince us that Kevin Sorbo is a professor. PG. 113m.

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Wes Anderson's Instagram-toned tale of hotel intrigue with concierge-Romeo Ralph Fiennes is his funniest and best written yet. PG13. 138m.

MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN. Charming and fun animated adventure about a brainy cartoon pooch named Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), his adopted human son and a time rift. PG. 92m.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED. The Muppets hit Europe and encounter doppelgangers, jewel heists and celebrity cameos. Swell turns by Ty Burrell and Tina Fey, both trying to ensnare Kermit one way or another. PG. 112m.

NOAH. Darren Aronofsky made a CG biblical disaster movie, and lo, it was frustrating and all over the place. With Russell Crowe as the pre-FEMA hero trying to keep heads above water. PG13. 138m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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