Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jake Kasdan
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins.
Despite the title, this is not a black comedy along the lines of Bad Santa, in which Billy Bob Thornton played a store Santa Claus with a nasty streak. Instead, this is a moderately amusing comedy starring Cameron Diaz as a superficial teacher who has her priorities all messed up.
Elizabeth Halsey has only become a teacher because of the short hours and long holidays. A gold digger, she is on the lookout for a rich man who can keep her in her lavish lifestyle. But when her current beau dumps her because of her money-grabbing ways, she reluctantly returns to teaching at John Adams Middle School. She smokes marijuana, drinks and swears, and largely resents her colleagues. Her English lessons consist of her showing films while sleeping behind her desk – “Movies are the new books,” she says.
Meanwhile, she decides that breast augmentation surgery is the only way to go if she wants to attract a man, and takes advantage of any opportunity to score some extra cash. She enthusiastically embraces the fund raising car wash. And when she learns that there is bonus for any class that scores top marks on a test she employs some underhanded methods to ensure she is successful. She also sets her sights on Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), the handsome young substitute teacher who hails from a wealthy family, while rejecting the advances of Russell (Jason Segel), the gym teacher.
But it is the intense rivalry between Halsey and the perky, dedicated and ambitious Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, from Hot Fuzz, etc), who teaches across the hall, which sets up many of the film’s best comic moments.
Director Jake Kasdan (son of The Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan) does what he can with the uneven script. Kasdan has made sharper, edgier and darker comedies, like the underrated Zero Effect and Orange County, and tv series Freaks And Geeks, etc. He has also dipped his toe into raunchy adult comedy with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Given that the script comes from Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, the team behind the US version of The Office, one wishes that the writing had been sharper, more insightful. The occasional descent into low brow scatological humour is a bit disappointing and reminds us that this is also the same team that gave us the awful Jack Black comedy Year One.
There are some good turns from the solid cast. Diaz has exercised her comic timing most memorably in the very funny and irreverent comedy There’s Something About Mary, and she knows how to make the most of a funny scene. She relishes her role as the morally bankrupt and manipulative Halsey, and seems to be having a lot of fun with the material. To the film’s credit she doesn’t completely redeem herself by the end either. Punch is also excellent as her sneaky and determined archrival, and gets the bulk of the funniest moments. John Michael Higgins is also good as Wally Snur, the ineffectual principal caught up in the power struggle between the two women. With his typical deadpan style Segel plays another variation of the sort of pathetic lovesick loser that he often portrays on screen. Diaz’s former boyfriend Timberlake is wasted, and given little to do in his role.
Bad Teacher is the antithesis of those films in which a noble and dedicated teacher transforms the lives of their students – To Sir With Love, Goodbye Mr Chips, Dead Poets’ Society, Lean On Me, Stand And Deliver, etc – many of which are referenced here. This film subverts that archetype. While there are some great individual moments scattered throughout, the film is only moderately funny, but still manages to do enough to earn a passing grade.