Review: Words fly in ‘Bodied,’ Joseph Kahn’s provocative and entertaining ode to battle rap

Calum Worthy, left, and Jackie Long in the movie "Bodied."

Pound for pound, you’d be hard pressed to find a more purely entertaining movie this fall than Joseph Kahn’s gleeful love letter to battle rap, “Bodied.” Props are due to writer Alex Larsen, a.k.a. Kid Twist, a Canadian battle rapper whose life story loosely inspires the tale of Adam (Calum Worthy), an aggressively woke white Berkeley student who enters the battle-rap scene by way of his thesis on the use of the N-word. It’s participant observation — an intense form of data collection — with the self-styled ethnographer falling down the rabbit hole and emerging completely changed.

Larsen’s script is a blistering deconstruction of identity politics that may leave your head spinning. Adam, the son of a lit professor (Anthony Michael Hall) and cowed by his militantly feminist vegan girlfriend (Rory Uphold), finds freedom of expression when the politically correct gloves come off.

But is there a limit? How do systems of power work in a battle where a rapper, with the goal of roasting an opponent to a crisp, only has appearances and assumptions to work with?

Kahn applies his maximalist style, using text and animation to bring a visual spark to the lyrical flow. From crisp academic arguments to sick burns, words spew, stutter, and startle, and as delivered by a totally committed Worthy, a soulful Jackie Long, and a posse of actors and rappers from the scene, the wordplay is dizzying, mesmerizing and intoxicating.




Rated: R, for strong language and sexual content throughout, some drug use and brief nudity

Running time: 2 hours

Playing: Starts Nov. 2, AMC Burbank; also available on YouTube Premium Nov. 28



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