Once an actor stars in something that’s widely loved enough among Internet circles to be considered as having “geek cred,” they earn quite a bit of leeway when it comes to judgment over whatever lame projects that they might do afterward. We’ve seen this phenomenon take place when everyone was willing to sit through six seasons of Castle without doing much complaining, just because of how much they loved Nathan Fillion in Firefly. We’ve seen it when people have actually been willing to buy tickets to go see Donald Glover rap.
There’s perhaps been no bigger example of someone being handed a nerd cred get out of jail free card in the history of modern entertainment than Jason Bateman coming off of starring in Arrested Development though. AD was basically like nerd catnip – it was funny, it was weird, it was underappreciated, it was intricately self-referential – and after Bateman’s turn as the series’ awkward straight man, Michael Bluth, he suddenly found himself anointed as the new comedy geek Jesus, after experiencing a period where he was being looked at as something of a has-been – an answer to an 80s pop culture trivia question. Unfortunately for everyone though, Bateman’s career since AD was cancelled has also become basically the most egregious example of someone pushing that nerd cred leeway past its breaking point that we’ve ever seen, to the point where his face showing up in a movie trailer has now become the sort of thing that forces former fans to unconsciously let out a groan.
Over and over again, Bateman keeps getting typecast as that same put-upon everyman he played in AD, and over and over again the results are films that turn out being even less funny than the one that proceeded it. Part of that is because the movies Bateman has been doing just aren’t anywhere near AD’s level when it comes to their writing, but part of it is also that playing a sad sack character is generally a schtick that comes with a pretty strict expiration date. Even AD realized that Michael Bluth being the character whose intentions were always pure and who always got his hopes and dreams trampled on by others was getting old and was forcing us to turn on him by the time the third season of that show rolled around, so they brilliantly combated the problem by turning up the volume on his obliviousness and making his always-the-bridesmaid subplots start to spring out organically from his tendency toward self-sabotage. The results were that the Michael character suddenly appeared to be as narcissistic as all of the other Bluths, he fit into the show’s world better than he ever did before, he kept from becoming stale, and – most importantly – we stopped wanting to punch him in the face whenever he pulled his creepy helicopter routine with his son, or when he naively trusted one of his insane relatives who had stabbed him in the back hundreds of times in the past.
No such complexity has been added to the majority of Bateman’s big screen characters, however, and his career has suffered from his sticking too closely to an established wheelhouse. From Extract, to Horrible Bosses, to The Change-Up, to Identity Thief, pretty much every lead role the guy takes it the same incredulous dope who keeps having crazy things happen to him that ruin his life, and the routine has gotten so tired at this point, and the movies he’s been doing the routine in have been so bad, that any sympathy the public once had for him as an onscreen presence has long since dried up. It used to be that we’d see Michael Bluth cringe and we’d cringe along with him, now we hear Jason Bateman stammer and we want to stick a gag in his mouth because we’re sick of him being such a nervous sap.
Thankfully though, it’s finally looking like we might be coming to the end of this period in the guy’s career, where he keeps playing the same well-tread character for unfunny filmmakers. Recently Bateman has decided to start dabbling in working behind the camera as well as in front of it, and the results of those efforts are Bad Words, a film that Bateman has helmed that finally sees him taking a different sort of starring role than the one we’re tired of watching him spinning his wheels in. I guess that’s one way to take care of typecasting – just start directing your own movies and give yourself any kind of acting job you want. A new, very filthy, very work inappropriate trailer for the film has been released, and all it takes is a few minutes of footage to see that watching Bateman act in this one is going to feel like taking in a breath of fresh air once you get to see the full film.
When Bateman showed up in the Horrible Bosses trailer getting browbeat by Kevin Spacey, you mostly wanted to slap him and tell him to stand up for himself. When he showed up in the Identity Thief trailer getting exploited by Melissa McCarthy, you probably did a full-on face palm and asked yourself whether this never-ending string of identical straight man turns was ever going to end. A funny thing happens once you see Bateman being a foul-mouthed creep in this Bad Words trailer though – you actually laugh, and you find yourself wanting to see more. You remember that this guy was once a comedic performer who you had on your list of best dudes in the business.
Will this edgier role be just the thing that Bateman needs to extricate himself from the world of lame studio comedies and put himself back on the radar of everyone following the alternative comedy scene? That remains to be seen, but things sure look promising. If Bad Words ends up being as funny and strangely heartwarming as this first ad suggests, and Bateman is able to continue directing movies where he gives himself different sorts of roles that better show off the range that he’s capable of, he could experience something akin to a second career comeback, and that would be amazing to watch. The past few years have been a little bit lacking in straight comedies that really deliver, if you ask me, so we’re probably about due for a batch of new stuff that comes out and cracks everyone up. If Bateman is the guy who gets that ball rolling, then we’ll have yet another thing to be appreciate him for. Now, if only something could be done about these movies that Vince Vaughn keeps starring in…
Bad Words is set to hit theaters sometime next March.