Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Bad Teacher

Copying off the paper of Bad Santa, and even going so far as to swipe a couple of its punch lines, Bad Teacher would seem to be doomed because its parts aren’t up to factory standard.

Cameron Diaz would seem to be no better equipped to play a sulphur-spewing hardass than Billy Bob Thornton is to wear spandex and star as one of Charlie’s Angels. Director Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard) is no Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) and since there are so many bad movie teachers out there, it’s just not as funny to see one in its own movie as it is to see a rogue department store St. Nick.

But Bad Teacher works better than it should, thanks to Diaz rising to the occasion as the conniving, booze-swilling, pot-smoking, obscenity-uttering center of her own universe, Miss Halsey. She’s a terrible, unlikable person with no self-esteem or ambition. She’s proudly shallow, indifferent to her job and so callous to the needs of her students that if she sees someone crying or being bullied, she walks the other way. She’s the reason charter schools exist.

Miss Halsey’s philosophy is Every Child Left Behind. She sleepwalks into class on the first day, throws a movie on to one of her middle school’s antiquated TVs, then proceeds to take a nap. She repeats the process every day, despite the fact that her tattle-tale neighbor, Miss Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is onto her.

It’s not that Halsey is lazy. She works harder than any other teacher, because her goals, which include scamming enough money for a boob job, finding ways to smoke pot while on campus and making life hell for Miss Squirrel, are loftier than simply grinding through the state grade level standards.

Diaz is excellent, and she has plenty of help for Punch, who channels Sarah Palin by way of Miss Krabappel, and Jason Segel, a slacker gym teacher who longs for Halsey’s withered, black heart. I could have done without Justin Timberlake, who plays the independently wealthy substitute teacher and object of lust for all female teachers. Timberlake has snapped out of his brief flicker of The Social Network awesomeness to retreat back to his Love Guru idiocy.

Bad Teacher entertains with a steady stream of laughs subverted by occasional islands of unfunny blandness. Oh, look. A loud fart! A lesbian teacher who displays her attraction for women! A fat teacher who dances! Fat people shouldn’t dance!

Cameron Diaz shouldn’t be as good as Billy Bob Thornton, either. And maybe she isn’t. But she proves she can be every bit as bad.

Starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake. Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenbeg. Directed by Jake Kasdan. 92 minutes. Rated R.

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