The Silver Bullet ~ I, Tonya

Synopsis: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Release Date: December 8, 2017

Thoughts: Well this looks like a wild ride. The brouhaha surrounding the infamous conspiracy involving figure skater Tonya Harding’s involvement in the injury of her competitor Nancy Kerrigan was the stuff of tabloid dreams.  Over the years Harding has faded from the public eye but  I, Tonya aims to drudge up events that have been on ice for some time.  Directed by Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours), while the movie looks like a black comedy at its bleakest and darkest (I get shades of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, no?), I’ve already heard buzz that it’s one you’re either going to get a huge kick out of or feel like you need a shower after to wash away the mean grime the film leaves on you.  I’m still nowhere near sold on the overall impact of Margot Robie (Exhibit A: Goodbye Christopher Robin) but if the Oscar rumors are true about co-star Allison Janney (Minions) then all shall be forgiven…for now.

Movie Review ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Kim Dickens, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd

Director: Tim Burton

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: For some time now, I’ve been looking for director Tim Burton. Not that he was lost in any back-of-the-milk-carton sort of way but the filmmaker that kicked off his career with supremely surreal oddities and favored practical (read: expensive) sets gradually morphed into a director that saw the world only in CGI possibilities. His movies became eyesores, with audiences not only straining to keep their eyes focused but their minds too.

Last represented in cinemas with 2014’s disappointingly stale Big Eyes, Burton has finally found a project that feels like a throwback to his early work with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs, when it was announced that Burton had signed on to direct I remember thinking what a perfect marriage this was. The novel was a curious eccentricity in and of itself, inspired by old-time pictures of unexplained human phenomena Riggs had collected through the years and then fashioned a story around. Looking at these pictures now, they seem like snaps Burton himself art-directed.

Though Jane Goldman (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Woman in Black) made some alterations in her screenplay (namely swapping the ‘peculiarities’ of two children), it arrives on screen mostly the way Riggs originally laid it out. Young Jacob (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) travels to Wales to learn more about his grandfather (Terence Stamp) who died under mysterious circumstances. Looking for the orphanage featured prominently in his grandfather’s cautionary bedtime stories, Jacob finds himself traveling through time and meeting up with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, reteaming with her Dark Shadows director) and her charges.

The headmistress and children all have special talents that attract the attention of other power hungry peculiars with a fondness for extracting and consuming the eyes of their prey. While Jacob is learning more about the life his grandfather never explained to him and becoming enamored with a girl that’s literally light as air (Ella Purnell, Maleficent), peril is in store as a predatory leader (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight) arrives with a hefty appetite. It all culminates in an effects heavy third act that disappointingly jumps through time and space with little regard for plot coherence.

Were it not for this dreary misstep, Miss Peregrine might be filed higher up in the Burton canon seeing that the rest of the film is chock full of unexpected flights of fancy. Green seems to be having a ball and not just because she’s decked out in some typically impressive Colleen Atwood (Into the Woods) costumes. Her body movements and line delivery are razor sharp without ever careening into camp territory. Butterfield makes for an impressive hero and the various children create personalities that go beyond their idiosyncrasies. I would have preferred someone other than Jackson as the main heavy as he doesn’t quite get the tone everyone else is going for and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) is barely there as Jacob’s bird watching father. I get the impression Judi Dench (Skyfall) and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) signed up as a personal favor, neither have much to do or work with which is saying something for the two cracker-jack scene stealers.

Like the best of Burton’s oeuvre, it scores the most points by embracing the peculiar and like the worst it stumbles when it becomes less about the performances and more about the special effects. Still, aside from Burton’s feature length remake of his short film Frankenweenie, it’s an improvement over much of his output over the past decade.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

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Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Release Date:  September 30, 2016

Thoughts: Usually when you see a preview of an upcoming Tim Burton film you have to squint hard to see the calling cards of the director that gave us more than a few memorable movie moments.  Now favoring creating CGI worlds instead of practical sets (I get it, it’s less expensive…and less impressive), the director comes back from the disappointing drama of Big Eyes with this adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs.  Re-teaming with Eva Green, his Dark Shadows leading lady, Burton seems like the perfect fit for this piece and I was certainly enticed to see more after this long-ish tease.  Still six months from theaters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could be a fine return to form for Burton if he resists going overboard on the CGI landscapes.

Movie Review ~ Minions

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob are recruited by Scarlet Overkill, a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb, hatches a plot to take over the world.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Allison Janney, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Saunders, Pierre Coffin, Steve Carell

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  In my review of 2013’s Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that the filmmakers succeeded in making an enjoyable sequel because of their understanding of exactly what the audience wanted…more Minions.  After Despicable Me 2 broke big at the box office, a third film was set for release in 2017 but in the interim a spin-off animated adventure has been created that focuses solely on how the Minions came to serve their not-quite-so evil master Gru.  You’d think that the most enjoyable elements from the first two films would be a slam-dunk when given their own film…but it turns out that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Look, I loved the Minions in the first two films and laughed at their gibberish language and love of bananas as much as the next easily pleased adult in the audience.  Heck, I even waited in line for a considerable time in a light drizzle for a spot on the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios in Florida.  It’s clear, though, that these were characters that worked better in their featured supporting roles and aren’t quite ready for headlining their own film.

The opening credits show the genesis of the Minions as they emerge from a prehistoric ocean and start their quest to serve the baddest of bad guys throughout time.  Their bumbling winds up offing their masters throughout history, though, from a T-Rex to Dracula to Napoleon and eventually they find themselves exiled into a cave frozen over with ice where they languish without a villainous boss to serve.  Not content with just lying around any longer, during the ‘60s the resourceful Kevin recruits two of his compatriots (Stuart and Bob) to venture out in search of an evil genius they can attend to.

Starting out in New York before heading to Florida and then England, the film follows the three pals as they become involved with the first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity) as she plots to overthrow the British monarchy.  Owing a little bit of its plot to King Ralph, the final half of film has the Minions first trying to help Overkill steal The Crown Jewels and then staving her off as she goes mad with newfound power.

Like the previous two entries in the Despicable Me universe, Minions feels too long even at the relatively short 91 minutes.  I was checking my watch before it was half over, a bad omen for a film not lacking in color or 3D distraction. (Like its predecessors, this one is worth the 3D upcharge…but make sure to stay until the final credits have passed for some impressive 3D effects.)  Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (who also voices every last Minion…totaling almost 1,000!) seem to know they don’t have enough material for a full-length feature so there are more than a few pit stops along the way, such as Stuart leading some Royal Guards in a sing-a-long to, randomly, a selection from the musical Hair.

The voice talent also is disappointingly underwhelming.  I was looking forward to Bullock’s performance but didn’t get much from her.  Like Frozen, the voices never seemed to really match their animated counterparts so you have the voices of talented actors like Bullock, Michael Keaton (RoboCop), Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), and Steve Coogan (Philomena) coming awkwardly out of designs that don’t sound totally correct.

It’s in the final five minutes where the movie shows some signs of life, not surprisingly it’s the part that acts as a bridge between Minions and Despicable Me, by that time I was just ready to get up and go so it’s a credit to the film that it finished up strong.  Still, in a summer that’s shown that there’s a case to be made for successful sequels, Minions is an example of how a spin-off (even one with good intentions) isn’t always the wisest route to take.  I’m sure the film will rake in a buttload of cash, though, so I hope that Despicable Me 3 puts the Minions back to work at what they do best…support the action rather than lead it.

Movie Review ~ Spy (2015)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson

Director: Paul Feig

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I hated Tammy…like REALLY hated Tammy.  I considered what Melissa McCarthy did with that film to be akin to a criminal act and felt she deserved some sort of cinematic punishment…like being the only person in a Nancy Meyers flick denied the privilege of wearing a cream colored tunic over beige capris.  I wasn’t sure that the relationship McCarthy and I were forming after her dynamic, Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids would survive a string of beneath-her stinkeroos like Identity Thief, The Heat, and some audience favorite but comically inert hosting gigs  on Saturday Night Life.  Then along came a dramedic (yep, I’m using it) role in St. Vincent where we saw beneath the yuk-yuk exterior and we were reminded that she’s a dang good actress.

That good will continues in Spy, McCarthy’s third go ‘round with director Paul Feig and it’s not only the funniest film I’ve seen in theaters in ages but it showcases the actress in her best role to date.  What McCarthy and Feig’s script finally embraces is that the jokes needn’t be at her expense, but rather she could be at the center of the hilarity and really drive a picture home.  McCarthy has had leading roles before but in Spy she breaks a kind of barrier down, a barrier that welcomes her to true A-List star status, signaling more than ever that she’s a bankable leading lady.

Though I was really looking forward to Spy, being a fan of the James Bond movies and high-tech, big laugh adventures I was worried that the proceedings would be overrun by McCarthy’s frantic take no prisoners improv that only was funny 1/10 of the time.  I was so battered and bruised from Tammy’s whopper of a lame knockout that I had some PTSD I wasn’t sure I’d be able to overcome.

It helps that the first laugh of Spy is a doozy, an unexpected moment that sets the tone for the rest of the picture.  As Susan Cooper, McCarthy is the desk bound eyes and ears of a dashing Bond-esque CIA operative (an alarmingly pink lipped Jude Law, Side Effects).  Pining for the spy who doesn’t love her, Cooper gets his dry cleaning and even attempts to fire his gardener…before ending up mowing the lawn herself because she’s too nice to let the man go.

When the hunt for a black market nuclear bomb calls for Cooper to jump into the field, it’s one strong comedic sequence after another as she becomes the globe-trotting operative she’s only seen from the comfort of secure life.  Whether having drinks with a co-worker (the hysterical Miranda Hart), battling fellow spies (a remarkably funny and very ready to play Jason Statham, Furious 7), or infiltrating a dangerous villainess’ inner circle, Cooper seems to be ready for anything that comes her way.

What’s so wonderful about Spy as opposed to other McCarthy projects is that the only thing standing in Cooper’s way is her own insecurities.  No one is holding her back, putting her down, or instilling a “less-than” mantra into her brain…any road less traveled is because she’s been afraid to make that first step.  That sets McCarthy (and us) up to cheer on Cooper though every tight situation she gets herself into…and she gets into a lot of them in the course of two hours.

As it typical of Feig films, he’s surrounded his star with a troupe of supporting players that are funny in their own right.  In addition to Law, Statham, and Frost we have Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) as Cooper’s short fused boss and Rose Byrne (This is Where I Leave You) as the bored bad girl that seems to feel that international espionage isn’t half as interesting as making it to the next level of Candy Crush.  Byrne and McCarthy have several good exchanges, even though they are so foul-mouthed that it became overkill at points.

Feig has taken a page from the Bond films and other secret agent parodies and smoothed out the edges.  Spy isn’t a spoof of famous spy films but a loving send up of them.  There’s a great opening credit sequence with a brassy belting chanteuse, a bevy of deadly gadgets for Cooper to use, each one more hilariously inappropriate than the last, and a plot of world domination that’s 2/3 Dr. Evil and 1/3 Goldfinger.  It’s all lovingly wrapped up in a package by Feig and company and presented at our feet.

The film’s pace could have been tightened up a bit and the profanity been taken down a notch (boy, I’m getting old!) but even with its R rating and several graphic genitalia shots this is a film the whole family could get some mileage out of.  I’m dying to see the gag reel that will surely accompany the Blu-Ray release because there’s a tiny hint in the end credits that this cast had a great time together.  Spy is an unexpected delight, chock-a-block full of fast laughs that, if you’re like me, will have you in tears and stitches of laughter.  Worth at least one trip to the theater…and I bet you’ll want to go again.

Movie Review ~ Tammy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (0/10)

Review: There’s a special place in cinema hell for movies like Tammy. Movies so bad, so rancidly unfunny that shelf space has been reserved for them in the fiery pit right next to most Adam Sandler films, Xanadu, Exit to Eden, Cool as Ice, This is 40, and Nacho Libre. What earns Tammy higher honors than most is how it squanders every single thing it has going for it: a popular (if fatally misused) lead, a stellar cast of gifted comedy veterans and/or Oscar winners, and a prime summer spot from a top studio. Yet it’s all for naught as the movie starts off bad and only gets worse over the next punishing 90 minutes.

It’s way past April Fool’s Day but go ahead and send your worst enemy to see Tammy anyway, preferably at an evening show where they’ll shell out nearly $20 to suffer through the unbalanced comedic misery. For you see, Tammy is the awful gift that keeps on giving; never once taking into consideration that it has no laughs, no likable characters, and is as unpleasant as a Silkwood shower after a bad sunburn.

The movie is downright uncomfortable from the get go as it opens on an unkempt Melissa McCarthy driving to work while stuffing potato chips into her mouth and then running over a deer that she then tries to resuscitate. Bloody and covered in animal mess, Tammy eventually shows up to work where her boss (Ben Falcone, Enough Said, McCarthy’s true partner in film crime seeing that he’s not only her husband but the co-writer and director) promptly fires her. Before you can say “It can’t get worse, can it?” it does when Tammy arrives home to find her husband (Nat Faxon, The Way Way Back) having a romantic dinner with a neighbor (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding). Faxon and Collette’s few scenes are so under rehearsed and awkward that my only conclusion is that they must have been visiting the set for the day and did this under duress or as a favor.

With no job and no husband, Tammy walks a few paces down the block to her parents’ house where she has a brief encounter with her unsympathetic mom (Allison Janney, Bad Words, only 11 years older than McCarthy) before heading off on a sorta road trip with her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas, 13 years older than Janney). Sarandon was a last minute replacement for Shirley MacLaine and evidently no one bothered to redesign any costumes or wigs because Sarandon looks positively awful…and younger than Janney. With no old age make-up to be seen and the kind of grey mop of a crazy cat lady wig usually reserved for a haunted house, Sarandon may be the least convincing old person ever seen on screen. The Oscar winner is usually pretty game for anything but McCarthy and Falcone’s script is so unfocused that she’s never afforded the opportunity to really make something of her aging alcoholic granny.

No, instead of trying to instill some life into the tired old road trip formula, McCarthy and Falcone manage to find new ways to make traveling cross country boring as hell. The problem is that McCarthy keeps attempting to beat everyone to a certain punchline…and in doing so winds up making it worse for herself. Instead of this being the kind of R-rated female-driven raunch fest that’s made a comeback in the last several years, it’s a painfully dull series of scenes featuring McCarthy’s buffoonish and grating style of comedy. Where is the winning sincerity that made her an overnight star (and an unlikely but deserving Oscar nominee) in Bridesmaids? Instead of continuing on that route of using her comedic skills for good, she’s been wasting her gifts in garbage like Identity Thief, The Heat, and cameos (This is 40, The Hangover Part III) meant to be funny that come off as irritating.

Everything about McCarthy’s performance seems familiar…mostly because it’s just a rehash of the simpleton characters she’s played onscreen and in increasingly slack appearances as host of Saturday Night Live. There was a time when I thought McCarthy had it all in the bag, but it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s a comic with limited longevity even though her off screen persona suggests someone you want to have an 80s style sleepover with. McCarthy (and the audience) deserves better than this…but as the co-writer and producer of Tammy she can’t blame anyone but herself.

The one redeeming piece of Tammy is a heart to heart scene between McCarthy and Kathy Bates (Titanic, playing a wise old lesbian) that, though remarkably genuine, comes too late in the game to change my overall feeling toward the picture. The scene offered a glimmer of the poignant comedy I think McCarthy may have at one time been aiming for but it’s gone in a flash in favor of more inane dialogue and slapdash film-making.

Truly terrible, Tammy is another nail in McCarthy’s career coffin she appears to be more than happy to be lying in. It’s the kind of film where you sink lower and lower in your seat the more banal it becomes. The audience I saw the film with started off laughing heartily but soon trailed off into sparse uncomfortable titters as everyone became aware just how rotten it all was. I can’t imagine I’ll see a worse film in 2014 and think that anyone that makes it to the end deserves some sort of certificate of achievement. Avoid at all possible costs (but do take my advice and send your nemesis to a midnight screening).

Movie Review ~ Bad Words

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, Rachael Harris

Director: Jason Bateman

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Y’know the old adage that it’s not what you say but how you say it?  That good rule of thumb can be applied to Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut, a black comedy with such a nasty streak that you’ll feel bad the moment you start to laugh.  Bad Words…more like bad feelings.

It’s easy to see what attracted Bateman to the story of an adult who enters a series of spelling bees after discovering a specific clause that allows him to compete against children a quarter of his age.  Andrew Dodge’s script was a hot ticket on Hollywood’s The Black List (a list of the top motion picture screenplays that haven’t been produced) and Bateman was looking to make the transition from directing television episodes of Arrested Development to something of the feature length variety.

The positive first: it’s short and Bateman was able to compile a hefty amount of good talent for supporting roles.  From Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as a reporter ally of Bateman’s that also occasionally shares his bed to Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) as a sinister spelling bee head honcho, the deck was stacked in favor of Bad Words being a nice little nugget of fun.  And tiny star Rohan Chand makes a nice foil to Bateman’s overgrown adolescent.

So why isn’t it a film I’d recommend?  It’s so darn mean, that’s why.  Very much in the vein of a cult hit like Bad Santa, the way these characters speak and act is so appalling and so disdainful that you can’t help but root for no one to succeed.  I’m not going to say I didn’t laugh during Bad Words, because I did and often.  However it’s the gradual icky feeling I had as the film progressed, realizing that these people were just that awful that made it hard to sit through.

If I want to end on a positive note, I should say that the film does have what seems to be a complete arc.  You can tell why the script found such favor as it made the rounds of Hollywood because it has clearly defined characters and a beginning, middle, and end that plays nicely with the conventions that audiences come to expect.  All that in between stuff though…not fun.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tammy

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Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: Ok…let me just say something that no one seems really willing to say: Melissa McCarthy has not delivered on the promise put forth in her rightfully praised breakthrough (and Oscar nominated) performance in Bridesmaids.  She just hasn’t.  She hasn’t.  You can disagree all you want but having watched McCarthy rehash the same character in films like Identity Thief, This is 40, The Hangover Part III, and The Heat not to mention her last severely awful hosting gig at Saturday Night Live I’m just not on her bandwagon anymore.  Like The Heat, this first trailer for Tammy has zero laughs, finding McCarthy pulling the same shtick we’ve seen her do countless times.  That’s depressing considering the impressive roster of actors involved with the movie like Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home), Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), Kathy Bates (Titanic: 3D), and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back).  I’m actually dreading this movie.

The Silver Bullet ~ Bad Words

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Synopsis: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.

Release Date:  March 14, 2014

Thoughts: Let it never be said that I wasn’t up for a true-blue R-Rated comedy.  Like 2013’s We’re the Millers, when a funny film has the wise gusto to push the limits of the PG-13 rating into R territory I can’t help but applaud.  Bad Words certainly looks like it has all the trimmings of a foul-mouthed black comedy that takes no prisoners.  Star Jason Bateman (Disconnect, Identity Thief) directs fellow funny people Kathryn Hahn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) in his farce following a grown man using a technicality to enter spelling bees in hopes of winning big.  If the final product can match the laughs put forth in this trailer Bateman may have an early 2014 hit on his hands.

For the Red-Band (R-Rated) trailer, with more foul language and raunch, click here.

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