Movie review: Battle rap comedy 'Bodied' takes aim at everyone
Music video whiz Joseph Kahn examines race, the culture of language through battle rap lens
A college student becomes a battle rap legend in Joseph Kahn's explosive, biting, whip-smart comedy "Bodied," a cunning satire of "woke" culture and a deceptively thoughtful examination of the policing of words, who gets to say them and who gets to own being offended by them.
Director Kahn ("Torque," "Detention") and screenwriter Alex Larsen take a flamethrower to racism and racist slurs by taking every ethnic stereotype in the book, exposing them, and throwing them back in viewers' faces.
Ecuadorians are confused for Mexicans, Koreans are mixed up with Japanese and jokes are lobbed at everyone's expense, and then those jokes are brought back and dissected to consider who laughed at them, and why. (It turns out battle rap — where opponents tear each other down using words as weapons, the nastier the better — is the ideal forum to explore our current culture of being triggered, where every day brings new micro-aggressions and accusations of cultural appropriation.)
There is an awful lot of battle rapping in "Bodied," and punchlines fly so quickly that it would take multiple viewings to catch even half of them. But Kahn shoots the battles so effectively, often shaking the camera for emphasis when a line lands with particular force, that they are always compelling viewing, even when they're just two opponents jawing at each other.
Calum Worthy (the Disney Channel's "Austin & Ally") is Adam, a grad student at Berkeley studying battle rap as part of his senior thesis. He is our entryway into the world of underground battling, and himself a send up of the white savior cliche in popular storytelling.
Eminem is a producer on the film, and even he is the subject of several jokes, proving no one is safe in the battle rap arena. Like its subject matter, "Bodied" is bold storytelling with no punches pulled.
Rated R for strong language and sexual content throughout, some drug use and brief nudity
Running time: 121 minutes