Rogue of the Week: Jason Bateman

Thursday, 04 August 2011 16:00 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Rogue of the Week: Jason Bateman

On paper, it might seem easy to be the straight man in any comedy.  Just stand there and react to the funnier guy and in doing so, allow him to continue being funny.  A great straight man, however, can actually be far funnier than his more superficially amusing counterpart, shading a seemingly ordinary character with a more subtly comedic personality.  Nobody is better at the rare art of the straight man than our latest Rogue of the Week, Jason Bateman.

In this weekend's comedy The Change-Up, Bateman plays a married father who, due to a magical fountain in which they both urinate while making a drunken wish, switches bodies with a carefree lothario played by Ryan Reynolds.  The body-switch premise allows Bateman to display his perfect timing, first as the staid, more mature straight man and subsequently as the wild card forced to inhabit the former's life.  The comedic actor, who has been working thirty years, moves from one to the other without missing a beat.

Bateman made his first television appearance at only twelve years old as a recurring character over twenty-one episodes of Little House on the Prairie, followed by a similar run on the popular sitcom Silver Spoons.  He became a television staple throughout the 1980's, with roles on series that included Valerie's Family, Knight Rider, St. Elsewhere, and It's Your Move.  He also followed fellow sitcom star turned film actor Michael J. Fox in the sequel Teen Wolf Too.

Throughout the 1990's, Bateman remained a presence on television sets everywhere, but a hit series eluded the actor, and it was easy for a lot of folks to jump to the conclusion that Bateman's best days were behind him.  In 2003, though, he anchored the peerless ensemble of Arrested Development, which is widely regarded as one of the funniest, sharpest shows in the history of the medium.  Bateman starred as Michael Bluth, the most responsible member of the wealthy and imploding Bluth family. 

Surrounded by scene-stealing actors including Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Portia De Rossi, David Cross, and Jessica Walters, Bateman was suddenly able to prove himself as both a charismatic lead and an unparalleled straight man.  While every other character was more obviously insane and flawed, Michael Bluth was simultaneously the voice of reason and the most flawed of them all.  His deadpan reactions to what on other series would be the big joke consistently proved funnier than the initial joke itself.  The series, which was basically too smart and rapid-fire funny for weekly television, was only on the air for three seasons, but it continues to amass a passionate following of fans who endlessly speculate about a possible theatrical revival.

Since the end of Arrested Development, Bateman has become a ubiquitous cinematic presence, headlining comedies such as Couple's Retreat, The Switch, and Mike Judge's Extract

His lead comedic roles abound, but Bateman has also stretched out into supporting roles in less overtly comedic roles, bringing his unique delivery and undeniable likability to a variety of roles.  He held his own as the sole non-superpowered lead alongside Will Smith and Charlize Theron in Peter Berg's Hancock and brought a surprising depth to what could have been a simply detestable character in Juno.  He reunited with Juno director Jason Reitman for Up in the Air in 2009, and also offered invaluable support in the more politically-minded State of Play and The Kingdom.

Jason Bateman is having a banner year with R-rated comedies so far in 2011.  Back in spring, he played a hardassed but nonetheless amusing and soulful secret agent in Paul, where he hunted down the extraterrestrial voiced by Seth Rogan.  Just last month he played one of the three beleaguered protagonists in the bona fide hit Horrible Bosses

Now, he and Reynolds are set to bring forth much amusement with The Change-Up which is directed by Wedding Crashers helmer David Dobkin and written by The Hangover screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.  The film hits theaters this Friday, August 5th.

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