We’d like to say we started to wonder whether Jason Bateman might be making questionable career choices the moment a CGI-rendered baby orifice projectile pooped in his mouth. But we’d be lying. We’ve been wondering for a while. It’s just hard to accept that with wee brained comedies like Horrible Bosses, Couples Retreat, The Change-Up and The Switch, the charming Arrested Development actor we love may be well on his way to becoming the next Kristen Bell, Gerard Butler, or pre-2011 Matthew McCounaghey — actors who we really want to like, but perpetually test our affections with the awful movies they make. We stick around because we hope some day we’ll see their talent matched by worthy material again, but we all have our limits. If reviews of Bateman’s most recent film Identity Theft are any indication, breaking points could be drawing nearer.
To be clear, Bateman’s recent output hasn’t been all bad. He’s not at the stage where he has to cry over a sloth to remind us why he’s great. He’s made a handful of films we’d give our loose seal of approval to — Juno, State of Play, and Up in the Air. But those all feature him in smaller, more dramatic roles, and they represent the kind of quality films that he only peppers throughout his filmography. Unfortunately, those kinds of roles don’t pay nearly as well as insipid comedies like Identity Thief.
Which is why we can’t really blame Bateman for taking on the projects he has. Because, yeah, like the guy with the million dollar movie offers is going to turn them down (come on). If we put aside our criticisms of his choices for a second and talk numbers, he is finding financial success with some of his movies. Juno, Hancock, Couples Retreat and Horrible Bosses all made more than $100 million at the box office. Interestingly, when he’s not part of an ensemble, the films don’t perform as well; The Change-Up, The Switch, Extract, and The Ex all made under $30 million, but from a general bread-making standpoint, he’s doing fine. The problem is that an actor isn’t remembered for how much money they made; they’re remembered for the movies they made. Considering how forgettable and/or bad Bateman’s movies have been of late, he’s sabotaging the part of his career that really matters.
Maybe this wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t know how good he can be. This isn’t Adam Sandler we’re talking about here. We certainly don’t expect Arrested Development over and over again. We know that was a once in a lifetime deal. (Well, twice in a lifetime, once it returns on Netflix.) It’s just that we feel Bateman deserves better than constantly playing bastardized, watered-down versions of Michael Bluth in movies that think a baby sticking its hand in a blender is comedy gold. Once upon a time he could make wield great material to make us laugh with just a heavy pause and a blank expression. Returning to his breakout character will be a nice reminder of that (hopefully), but that’s all it will be: a reminder. It won’t change or affect his movie career. It’s simply an interlude between what he’s been doing all along because it’s becoming frustratingly clear that he’s just going to keep making bad movie choices.
Exhibit A: His latest announced project. Described as being in the vein of Horrible Bosses (not reassuring), it’s a movie about a group of couples who like to get together for game nights. One night things turn lethal, and a comedic murder mystery is afoot, like the spiritual sequel to Couples Retreat mashed up with Clue. Even from the vague plot description we can tell that it’s bound to be bad… but we’ll probably still feel compelled to see it on the odd chance that it’s actually good.
Which is maybe why we shouldn’t be asking if Bateman’s career needs saving. Maybe we need to be asking whether we need saving from his career. Because at this point – let’s be honest – he has become a cornballer. What’s worse, he is definitely aware that he’s making bad choices. And as long as we keep going back for more, we’re only enabling him to keep doing it.