From the moment Bodied opens with a promotional advert for the Killafornia Battle League (in which we’re *immediately* told to “suck a dick!”) to the very last insert-rap-lyric-here outro line, director Joseph Kahn and co-writer Alex Larsen assassinate political correctness with pop-culture lyricisms and heat-seeking regard. Ninjas of the rapped word in their ranks, racial appropriation and misrepresented social justice tenacity in their crosshairs. We no longer can share a single thought without offending someone, somewhere, who wants to score uncashable “woke points” – and Kahn wants to make their fragile little minds explode. This is two straight hours of offensive bars, non-stop hilarity, layered introspection and the most stylized, take-no-prisoners commentary on what a black-and-white minefield our behavioral ethics have become.
That, and it’s the most motherflippin’ fun you’ll have in a theater of any kind this year, the next, and probably many to come. Drop the mic and just walk, Mr. Kahn. That standing-O at Fantastic Fest happened for a reason.
Calum Worthy stars as a Ron-Weasley-lookin’ Gingervitus dweeb named Adam, your average English lit grad student who’s writing a thesis on the “n-word” and how its meaning changes in battle rap form. His subject – battle vet Behn Grymm (Jackie Long) – first jokes about just another white boy looking for an “n-word” pass, but then things take a twist for the obsessive when Adam “bodies” (defeats) a cocky rapper who picks a parking-lot challenge. Thus births a student/mentor relationship between Adam and Behn, with sights set on taking over the battle rap world – even if it’ll cost Adam his outspoken hippie-extreme girlfriend (Maya, played by Rory Uphold), his father’s privilege (Professor Merkin, played by Anthony Michael Hall), or, really, any ties to the sensitive life he used to lead.
It’s with Kahn’s mile-a-minute, scorched-Earth enthusiasm that Bodied refuses to back down from the mightiest challenges. You can pull twenty different meanings from Adam’s underground ascension, peeling back layer after layer of relative connections to the world around us. Limits and boundaries are tested, but this full commitment to showing what pussified PC-policers we’ve become is paramount to the film’s success. Without Megaton’s super-slammin’ villainy as the game’s hammer-fisted berzerker (played by true battler Dizaster), and all the lines that’ll tear your decency to shreds (instant Bill Cosby drop), Bodied would become just another satire without the balls to fully represent its feelings – but, instead, it earns the right to make “Asians eat dogs” and “chicks should be in the kitchen” digs look like Saturday morning children’s material. Middle fingers in the air, never a single care.
As stated, there are a billion different takeaways worth dissecting here (a testament to how deep this otherwise raucous comedy truly is). You can view Adam’s full immersion into battle rap warfare as a tragic anti-hero story about some racially-appropriating kid with a silver spoon stuck up his ass, but also read how Adam puts his passions on blast and ignores the chorus of unknown voices who chastise his actions (social media mob-rule nod).
Maya’s rant about Adam’s misogynistic, insensitive, and demonstrably uncaring performances comes from a familiar place, yet is it her protest to lead? An Asian classmate claims she “can’t be racist” because of her heritage, a homosexual character denounces the “f-word” but comments about his “inner black woman” without moral question – these are the same people demanding “justice.” Adam’s stream-of-conscious insults are somehow different in their eyes.
This opens a conversation about how perception is everything, given that rap-battlers verbally murder each other with a mix of beat-rhyme-poetry roasting; points scored the more racist, perverse and degrading your material is. Are you allowed to get upset without shared experiences or knowledge into the agreed-upon code between two competitors? Battle rappers are the ones slinging insults at one another – loving every minute and strengthening bonds through the process – yet outsiders are the ones enraged? This is a movie about how collectively soft we’ve become and how over-appropriateness-policing has become a parody of itself, but also what words mean, how context is king and our inability to just lighten the f*#k up. Voices speaking for those who haven’t asked for such outcry – how exhausting it must be to make everything into some hashtag-worthy cause.
While it’s Kahn’s uncontainable energy that ensures non-stop, slap-you-in-the-face realness, performances are genuine and fire-spitting. Calum Worthy’s nerdy white rapper schtick is the central point of power; a lover-or-hate breed of literary genius using his talents to throwdown in verbal octagons. He’s a warrior we hope to see notch wins, but when called a scumbag, it’s like a dueling persona is revealed. When backed by his crew, Adam is the hero. When exploited in front of his class as a bigot, he’s a trash human. Worthy’s performance exists in this emotional purgatory that alters scene-by-scene, so astonishingly summarizing the human condition in a way we no longer choose to recognize – complicated. Not right-or-wrong, but a hazy middle ground dictated by scenario.
Shoniqua Shandai supports as Devine Write, a star-making, empowered female flamethrower who’ll take your gender bashing generics and melt you with hotter bars than the sun – even better when teaming with Jonathan Park (playing Prospek) for a body-swapped, self-skewering battle by assuming the other’s identity (female/Asian) to state “your words don’t define me.” That’s not to say Walter Perez’s Che Corleone is chopped liver – he’s just the more hapless, always-explaining-his-references booty hunter existing for comical support. Everyone drops comedic beats like bombs, then lays their flow with the headlining majesty of a pay-per-view main event (Jackie Long among the best). None better than Dizaster, who can only be described as a confrontational barbarian who savages opponents, leaving them a quivering, limp pile of broken dreams that’ll have you demanding all the Megaton battlers can handle.
Comparatively to Kahn’s catalog, Bodied has more in common with Detention than it does Torque. Humor rattles with the speed of a Neil Peart drum solo and references range from Blake Griffin to Earthworm Jim. What movie about battle rap is complete without actual song lyrics injected into the dialogue? A coy “Oh-my-God, Becky” as Maya addresses her friend, because Kahn’s sense of fun infects even the smallest detail. Be it these Freddie Wong-type digital animations as rappers fight – gun blasts sparking from imitating fingers or a cane appearing when one battler references old age – or a whole collection of bars about video games (Mega Man shout out!). Do NOT sleep on these rhymes – for how impressive Kahn’s conviction his, Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen’s scripted bars are doubly-dynamic and ill-intelligent.
You’re right to assume Bodied is “problematic” with a capital “P,” because this is Kahn’s wheelhouse. Insults like “Your life fails the Bechdel Test!” or a vegan waitress who mutters “Fuck yeah…” when Maya orders a smoothie and substitutes every single ingredient. Kahn is so hooked into the millennial mindset as a source of pretention, judgment and close-minded absurdity – another commentary on woke coolness. We’re forced to gaze into a mirror and what we see may not please us, but that’s the brilliance in each competition and disgusted reaction. Kahn introduces a world that few know exists and launches a perfect conversation starter to address how we’ve become this collective offense-brigade as a population. Imagine if Mel Brooks made Blazing Saddles today – do you get me now?
Bodied is a fearless, pitch-perfect social wake-up that goes straight for the kill. No bullshit. Everyone gets their due call-out, and even better, Joseph Kahn has us crippled by painful laugher while he shouts a megaphone-blaring message. This is a provocative blend of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Eminem, and Detention. Every second of Kahn’s feature firestarter is meant to ignite debate and take a good hard look at the current state we’re in, from comedic beginnings to his dead-serious punch of a finale. This is how you make a point. This is how you get people thinking. This is how you satirize. Flat-out, this is how you drop a cinematic bombshell. Props to the outspoken, no jokin’ minds out there who rap to the beat of their own metronome – may you all ignite the world like Joseph Kahn and watch it burn.
Joseph Kahn resurrects a type of cinematic satire that isn't afraid to expose society for what it's become, cracking a few eggs and flipping so many birds in the process.