This summer, you'd be forgiven for wondering if Jason Bateman was in every single movie being released. In reality, he's only in two -- "Horrible Bosses" and "The Change-Up" -- but his affable face invades your consciousness to the extent that you'd think he had a cameo in "Captain America."
He should have had a cameo in "Captain America. In fact, he should have had one in "Cowboys and Aliens," too. Bateman should be in everything, and we're not just saying it because he was so great as Michael Bluth on "Arrested Development." He's a flexible and talented performer, capable of doing much more than just uttering glib one-liners and mimicking Ryan Reynolds.
Bateman is an everyman, and by "everyman" we don't mean it in the way critics do when praising a hunk who dresses down for a part, or politely describing a supporting actor who's otherwise unmemorable. Like Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart, Bateman excels at playing ordinary people from all walks of life -- he's a man who could easily be you, your father, brother, husband or cousin. He could be your neighbor, teacher or doctor. He could be a fireman. He could be a cowboy. He could be anyone. That's a skill and a gift all actors crave, but in Bateman, it's deemed unremarkable.
Don't believe us? Consider his style of comedy. It's not over-the-top; rather, it's built on a tired wariness behind his eyes that says, "What now? This? This on top of everything?" Even when he's engaging in something he knows to be preposterous -- driving a stair car, trying to kill his boss -- he plays it with such heart that you identify with him.
But he's not all cuddles and sincerity. There's a flip side to his humor, a real prickliness behind the laughs. Just as he expertly captures the put-upon hero that you love, Bateman can also nail the smug, rule-abiding citizen that you loathe. Remember the pressure he put on poor George Michael at the banana stand? Or his mean G-man in "Paul," or his number-crunching boss in "Up in the Air"?
He can even nudge those tense, buttoned-up suburbanites into truly uncomfortable territory as he did in "Juno," where he abruptly became a guy who was willing to hit on a teenager. That's not exactly a crowd-pleasing character, though it is one recognizable enough to make us squirm.
"Juno" wasn't his only dark turn. In "State of Play," Bateman played against type as the slimy, drugged-up, sex-addicted Dominic Foy. There were hints of the usual Bateman -- the snark, the cynicism -- but his manic and strained style was perfect for a man who drove a flashy car, slept with hot chicks and unraveled the moment anyone put pressure on him. He had an equally freaky transformation in "Smokin' Aces," where he was spastic, greasy, and dotted with the sores of addiction. It was gross. It was definitely not Michael Bluth.
Bateman's versatility even extends to action flicks. He was perfect in "The Kingdom" as an intelligence operative, because while he's not exactly Rambo, he's a lot closer to a real FBI agent than the musclebound men Hollywood trots out. His character exuded brains instead of brawn, but he also shot guns, cracked jokes and survived -- which, come to think of it, puts him right up there with Arnold. Doesn't he deserve an entire trilogy of action films, always playing the ordinary, well-trained guy who winds up in extraordinary situations, and amazes everyone by competently saving the day?
Bateman has been underrated for too long. He shouldn't be relegated to paycheck comedies and supporting roles in Jason Reitman dramedies. He should be carrying his own films, picking solid scripts from a variety of genres. He should be chewing scenery as a big, bad villain, or saving the day and getting the girl.
He's proved he can do anything. Why is it taking us so long to listen?