Year 7, Day 249 - 9/6/15 - Movie #2,141
BEFORE: Since we were out of town last weekend, we're staying in this holiday to enjoy the extra day off. But we are going out to eat - the advantage of a weekend where nearly everyone tries to get out of town is that we can aim high and eat just about anywhere we want.
Jason Bateman carries over again from "Horrible Bosses 2", and this is Movie #4 (out of 5) in this year's Back to School series.
THE PLOT: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.
AFTER: There's been a lot of bad behavior witnessed by me in movies in the last week - from impersonating police officers to faking a kidnapping, college students drinking and doing drugs at parties, and a woman going down a list of sexual acts. The trend continues tonight, as an adult befriends a grade-schooler during a spelling bee, and takes him out drinking, gets a prostitute to flash him, and says many, many inappropriate things in front of him. He also has (nearly) empty sex with the reporter who follows him on his quest to win a grade-school level spelling bee.
We have to ask - why does he want to do this? The reporter is there to find out, but every time she asks, the question gets deflected - so I was honestly afraid that we'd never find out the WHY, that someone just came up with this idea and riffed on it, without ever bothering to dig deeper. There is a reason behind this character, but we just have to wait for nearly the whole movie to go by before they get to it.
Next question is the HOW of it, how does this adult get to compete in a young person's spelling bee? There's a half-hearted loophole explanation since he supposedly never finished eighth grade, and since he appears to know every rule in the book and although threatens legal action if they don't let him compete, it's basically the same logic that allowed a dog to play sports in the "Air Bud" series. ("Hmm, I don't see a rule that says an animal CAN'T play basketball...") And that's a little worrisome too, that the technicality of it all gets glossed over.
But things really picked up near the final round - and if you can't predict who makes it to the final round, then you've just never seen a movie before, because like all the humor in "Horrible Bosses 2" and "The To Do List", it's all telegraphed way in advance. But once we get to the final round, something interesting does happen that flips the competition around, defying all logic relating to winning and losing, which, even if it's not hilarious, is at least somewhat original. Remember those Olympic athletes a couple of years ago, I think it was in the sport of badminton, who were trying to lose matches in order to get better opponents in the next round? It's a bit like that.
And that brings me to my NITPICK POINT - at several times, our anti-hero is seen advancing in the national competition via some kind of bracket system. His nameplate is moved from one round to the next, symbolizing his progress - but a spelling bee wouldn't use brackets, it's just not set up like the NCAA basketball tournament. That system would only work if each player had direct, head-to-head matches, with one player advancing and one being eliminated - but a spelling bee works differently, everyone spells a word in each round and all of the players who misspell their words are eliminated - so if they start with 50 spellers, as depicted, the number of people knocked out in each round could be anywhere in the range from 1 to 49 - a bracket system just couldn't represent this. They depict this correctly in the game-play, but the close-ups of the bracket should not have been included.
But the actor they cast to play the proctor, the guy who reads the words to the contestants, what great casting! I thought for a while that they got the real guy who does this for the Scripps-Howard spelling bee, he's nearly a dead ringer. OK, when I look at their photos side-by-side I do see some differences, but I think he really captured the essence of that guy, without doing a direct impersonation.
Also starring Kathryn Hahn (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Allison Janney (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights"), Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Ben Falcone (last seen in "Enough Said"), Steve Witting, Rachael Harris (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph").
RATING: 4 out of 10 ketchup packets