- Honor roll: Diaz in Bad Teacher.
Like a fifth-grader mangling a punch line he overheard his big brother kill with, Bad Teacher feels a bit like a rehash of better, funnier works. This starts with the title. Invoking the far superior Bad Santa is only going to set the bar higher for your movie, a bar Bad Teacher is more like to slouch under than vault over. Not that there aren’t laughs here — there are big ones — but the gags rarely deliver overall honor-roll quality.
Don’t blame Cameron Diaz, who shockingly delivers as the lazy, drunk, man-hungry Elizabeth Halsey, a Midwestern middle-school teacher waiting out the 3 p.m. bell in a boozy stupor. She’s got almost zero redeeming qualities, aside from a killer bod, which she uses on men with the efficiency of a samurai sword.
Her latest plan to become a trophy wife has flopped, so she limps her way through another school year, desperately hoping to raise enough cash to fund a boob job in order to land a better breed of rich sucker. Funnily enough, a naïve, bow-tied chump strolls into the halls in the form of Justin Timberlake as Scott Dellacorte, the heir to a watch-making dynasty, who apparently subs just because he wants to do good. Elizabeth’s preposterously chipper, clean cut rival with the goofy name “Amy Squirrel” (Lucy Punch) also has a crush on Scott, and is onto Liz’s schemes; when a cash prize is announced for the highest state test scores, the competition gets absurdly heated. As the sarcastic gym teacher, Jason Segal sits back and hurls wisecracks just as hard as he throws dodge balls.
Director Jake Kasdan has a string of marginal cult faves to his credit, the kind of little-seen weirdo comedies (Zero Effect, The TV Set and Orange County) that people pretend to have seen to earn cool points at parties. Kasdan’s most beloved work was doing episodes of Freaks and Geeks, and the screenplay duo, Gene Stupinsky and Lee Eisenberg, write for The Office, so it’s no surprise that this attempt feels more like a TV pilot.
Characters are either underdrawn or wildly overacted, and the kids are used mostly as props, which leads to an uneven, jerky ride. Diaz however, simply nails it, redeeming some of her rom-com turds, and Segal is in fine, snarky form, though their slow-developing romance is a bit of a stretch. When it hits, like a hysterically raunchy dry humping scene, Bad Teacher is a funny overachiever, though with a bit more effort it could’ve have won gold stars.