Bad Teacher (Review)

BAD TEACHER (6/24/11; Comedy)
Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Phyllis Smith, John Michael Higgins
SCR: Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
DIR: Jake Kasdan
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
1 hour 32 mins
BOX: $100,292,856

Diaz devours her best role in years as Elizabeth, a gold-digging, pot-smoking teacher dumped early by her nebbishy fiancée (and his shrewish mother), forcing her to retreat back to her temporary job at an upbeat middle school.

As with all movies about educators who make a difference, Elizabeth aspires to become more … a full cup-size, more. Yep, her goal is an expensive boob job because, she surmises, having a bigger rack will equal having a better life. She sets out to raise money by any means necessary – and that includes everything from taking bribes to turning the annual carwash into a scene from a Whitesnake video.

Her nemesis from across the hall is Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), whose nauseating perkiness barely hides a seething passive aggressiveness. Punch is responsible for some of the movie’s biggest laughs, like not realizing that urinals aren’t for sitting. There are also veiled references to something that went down with her “in 2008,” but I gather the less about that, the better.

Elizabeth immediately latches onto Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), the new substitute teacher who comes from old money, while rebuffing the steady advances of Russell (Segel), the good-natured P.E. coach unfazed by her boorish behavior. When Scott hooks up with Miss Squirrel, Elizabeth decides to mix a little wicked fun in with her money-raising efforts.

She learns that the teacher with the highest scores on the mandatory state test also nabs a sizable cash bonus (and Miss Squirrel was the last recipient), so of course Elizabeth schemes to steal the top secret test.

Director Kasdan cannily references the great “inspirational teacher” movies (which Diaz shows in her classroom) and mines a good laugh from using Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (from Dangerous Minds) on the soundtrack. His comic chops are solid, and he knows when not to linger too long following a punch line, but this isn’t in the same league as two of his earlier films, The TV Set (2006) and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2008).

The cast is solid: while Diaz and Punch take turns stealing scenes from each other, Timberlake is miscast as a prissy virgin with personality quirks that make room for bad love poetry and dry humping (don’t ask); Higgins is the principal, a guy a little too preoccupied with dolphins; Smith plays the same note as her role on The Office, but it’s a good note. Pity that the movie forgets about her halfway in and strands her with a tired pot-smoking joke.

Bad Teacher isn’t a great – or even a good – movie, and that’s fine. It feels like a stitched-together sketch comedy with two-dimensional characters, but it’s hard to find many nits to pick when you’re laughing. The movie is consistently funny and frequently offensive, and that’s a good thing.

My only problem: If you’re gonna put the word “bad” in the title, you’d better mean it. Bad Teacher conjures the gleefully depraved likes of Bad Lieutenant (1992, 2009), Bad Santa (2003) and the series Breaking Bad. Now, those guys are bad. Comparatively, Diaz’ Elizabeth is merely an entitled bitch.

Though amusing, I never got the sense the movie was venturing anywhere without a corporate net. Diaz’ breakout movie There’s Something About Mary (1998) was far more edgy and memorable.

Heck, even the 1984 Nick Nolte dramedy Teachers felt more dangerous.

— DENNIS WILLIS



Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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