Photo: Colobia Picture
Starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel. Directed by Jake Kasdan. 92 minutes. 14A
In the first few scenes of Bad Teacher, we get a taste of said middle school non-marm's teaching style. On the first day of the new year, she turns off the lights (so as to make her hangover headache go away), spits out the wannabe class pets' homemade cookies, gets the husky kid to wheel out the TV, sneaks a swig from her secret in-desk JD stash and pops in Stand and Deliver. Next up? Lean On Me. Then Dangerous Minds. Then, of course, Scream.
This slacker scheme (she calls it a "multimedia syllabus"), one of the only somewhat-kid-friendly jokes in the fairly elementary comedy, isn't terribly funny. Or original. In fact, it's quite the opposite. But it's the best representation of the film as a whole.
It's subject and title character may be the exact opposite, but at its overtly crude core, Bad Teacher is a textbook overachiever. It wants to be everything those overly inspirational student-teacher movies are not - surprising, funny and actually enjoyable - and will stop at nothing (diarrhea - verbal and otherwise, fake boob close-ups, dry humping) to make it happen. Even if it means sacrificing quality writing and character development.
The film follows Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), a smokey-eyed, overtanned and endless-legged golddigger who is forced back into teaching after her deep pocketed way out (her rich, preppy fiance) figures out she's only sucking him off to suck his bank account dry. There's no way in hell she should be anywhere near a school. She drinks on the job, hits the bong in between classes, wears black bras under white shits and only talks to the other teachers when they offer to buy her lunch. However, she gets away with it because nobody really gives a damn other than her hyperactive cross-hall neighbour, Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch, Dinner for Schmucks), who is as preppy pesky and universally hated as can be.
Elizabeth's starts to step up her game when she meets the cute new substitute teacher (Diaz's real-life ex, Justin Timberlake), a bow tie-wearing square who is made of designer men's watch money (his grandpa's the founder). As soon as she sees a picture of his well endowed ex, Liz makes it her personal goal to raise enough bucks to get herself a new, Katy Perry-sized set. She uses every money-making extracurricular (car washes, standardized tests, private tutoring) to fill her DD dream jar, despite the fact that it means teaching a lesson on To Kill a Mockingbird or sharing a hit with the overly flirty gym teacher (a scene-stealing Jason Segel) for once.
The plot may be predictable enough to fill your just-alright summer comedy quota, but it's also filled with gaping, chuckleless holes of obviously envelope-pushing awkwardness, including out-the-blue racially-charged one-liners courtesy of Year One screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. These jokes could work wonders for Jane Lynch and Sue Sylvester, but for some reason they fall flat coming out Diaz's mouth. And she's no stranger to darker comedy (see: Very Bad Things, The Sweetest Thing). Thankfully, the actually funny parts, including an awesomely bad ballad named featuring only words that rhyme with "Sympatico," and a Segel dolphin/shark rant, weren't in the trailers. So those giggles are definitely genuine.
Diaz tries her best to make Elizabeth a irresistable bitch, a grown-up, trust fund-less Regina George. But her usual tomgirl spark is lost behind a dated hot-for-teacher facade including bright red lipstick, too-tight tops and sky-high stilettos. Timberlake does better in his tortoiseshell specs, but it's Segel and Phyllis Smith (yes, Phyllis from The Office) who deserve gold stars. They turn Liz's other love interest and sorta BFF into solid, quip slaying sidekicks. Director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard, Freaks and Geeks) seems to realize this, giving them more and more screen time and Timberlake less as the movie huffs and puffs along.
Bad Teacher definitely gets an A for effort, never giving up on its vulgar hopes and dreams. But the actual content of these insensitive inneundos deserves something closer to a B (or even a C). Sometimes this sassy lady satire routine works, taking you off guard and reminding you of this season's other delightfully rude girl comedy. But a lot of the time it just feels like a junior high hallway at 3:05 p.m: empty.B-