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Career Watch: Jason Bateman Gets Down with his 'Bad' Self

Thompson on Hollywood By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood March 17, 2014 at 11:14AM

Signature line: “Your average American male is in a perpetual state of adolescence -- you know, arrested development.” That utterance from Jason Bateman’s cult series "Arrested Development," which made a comeback on Netflix last year, could be applied to his own career as he continues to distance himself from his child-star past. He takes a step in the right direction by starring in his feature directing debut as a disagreeable foul-mouthed lout who crashes a kids’ spelling bee in the just-opened R-rated comedy "Bad Words."
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Jason Bateman in 'Bad Words'
Jason Bateman in 'Bad Words'
'Arrested Development'
'Arrested Development'

Signature line: “Your average American male is in a perpetual state of adolescence -- you know, arrested development.” – Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth from TV’s "Arrested Development."

That utterance from Bateman’s cult series, which made a comeback on Netflix last year, could be applied to his own career as he continues to distance himself from his child-star past. He takes a step in the right direction by starring in his feature directing debut as a disagreeable foul-mouthed lout who crashes a kids’ spelling bee and picks up a doe-eyed Indian tyke as a sidekick he refers to as “slumdog” in the just-opened R-rated comedy "Bad Words" – aka "Bad Santa" with dictionaries. 

Career peaks:  Bateman was born into a showbiz family on Jan. 14, 1969, in Rye, N.Y. His father, Kent, was a producer, director and screenwriter while older sibling Justine played Michael J. Fox’s under-achiever sister on the TV series "Family Ties." An actor since the age of 10, Bateman was Michael Landon’s adopted son on "Little House on the Prairie" and would go on to star in a number of popular sitcoms in the ‘80s, including "Silver Spoons" opposite Ricky Schroder and "The Hogan Family" with Sandy Duncan. 

Justine and Jason Bateman
Justine and Jason Bateman

Bateman switched to the big screen with his 1987 debut in the horror comedy sequel "Teen Wolf Too." He inherited the werewolf role from Fox, who broke out in the original film and went on to bigger things like "Back to the Future." Unfortunately for Bateman, No. 2 wasn’t exactly a howling success and he soon returned to TV, appearing in a string of shows that barely lasted one season. 

His luck finally took a turn for the better in 2003 when he was cast in the Fox sitcom "Arrested Development."  As single parent Michael Bluth, Bateman was the straight man to a clan of dysfunctional oddballs and the Ron Howard-produced show attracted a modest but devoted following during its three seasons. Suddenly, he was a member of the cool club, doing commentary for internet talk radio’s "The Majority Report" during  the 2004 Democratic National Convention, hosting "Saturday Night Live" and being recruited by Vince Vaughn for such Frat Pack comedies as "Starsky and Hutch," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" and "The Break-Up." 

Jason Bateman and Ellen Page in 'Juno'
Jason Bateman and Ellen Page in 'Juno'

In 2007, Bateman proved capable of handling more challenging material in director Jason Reitman’s "Juno" as a stunted married man-child who unwisely develops feelings for the pregnant teen whose child he is supposed to adopt.  He similarly impressed in Reitman’s 2009 effort "Up in the Air" as a callous boss of a company that helps businesses fire their employees.

Biggest assets: Through-the-roof likability, a top-notch professional attitude, a finely honed comic delivery and the ability to work well with others.  Ricky Gervais, never shy about scathing putdowns, has offered only raves about Bateman’s “comedic confidence” after the British comic co-directed the actor in 2009’s "The Invention of Lying." He has said of Bateman’s laser-like deadpan prowess, "There may be 50 ways to play a scene in drama, but sometimes there's only one way to nail a joke." Also, Bateman know his own strengths: “I really enjoy playing that everyman part because that part is us, the audience. And you need somebody inside a comedy to tether the absurdity to reality. Guys like Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Sacha Baron Cohen, they do things you love to watch. I like to do the other half.”  But sometimes you do want to see how that other half works, too.

"Disconnect"
"Disconnect"

Awards attention: "Arrested Development" was the source of his only award win, a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical series in 2005. He was in the running again this year for the revived version. He was also nominated for an Emmy for "Arrested Development" in 2005 and 2013.

Latest misfire: There are several contenders for that title, including 2013’s Internet-age cautionary tale "Disconnect," a rare dramatic outing for Bateman that failed to connect with audiences. Although "Identity Thief," which teamed Bateman with pistol-hot funny lady Melissa McCarthy, grossed an admirable $134.5 million, it earned miserable reviews with only a 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But the biggest turn-off for both critics and moviegoers was probably "The Change-Up," a crude body-switch farce that paired Bateman as a family-man attorney with Ryan Reynolds as a no-account out-of-work actor. The critics did not mince words. From The Observer: “Like the copious pooh that his baby son squirts into Bateman's mouth during a nappy change, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.” 

'Identity Thief'
'Identity Thief'

Biggest problem:  Bateman rivals Paul Rudd for seeming to be being unable to turn down any supporting humor-required role that comes his way, and being the best part of a subpar vehicle will only get you so far.  Not that he gets offered that many choice top-banana opportunities. As a pragmatic Batman has said, “I’ve been offered a couple of leads in some movies that really suck. I mean, you know, if they are offering me the lead, the script ain’t great. The stuff that’s good, I’m a little further down the line.”  Even when he is a co-headliner as in "Identity Thief" or 2011’s "Horrible Bosses," Bateman tends to be upstaged by others. As for his work beyond comedies, few but the Bateman faithful probably remember that he was in 2007’s "The Kingdom," 2008’s "Hancock" or 2009’s "State of Play."

This article is related to: Jason Bateman, Bad Words, Career Watch


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