Bad Teacher

Photo: Columbia Pictures

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 pet's homemade cookies, gets the husky kid to wheel out a TV, sneaks a swig from her 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.

Its 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, over-tanned and endless-legged gold digger who is forced back into teaching after her way out (her rich, preppy hubby-to-be) 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 between classes, wears black bras under white shirts 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 you can imagine.

Elizabeth starts to step up her game when she meets the adorkable 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 help her fill her DD dream jar. Soon enough Liz is teaching actual lessons on To Kill a Mockingbird (with the help of dodgeballs) and getting semi-social with the staff (well, if you count sharing a hit with the overly flirty gym teacher, played by a scene-stealing Jason Segel). But can she keep up this charade long enough to reach her totally vapid goal? Or will Squirrel rat her out?

The plot may be predictable enough to fill your escapist summer comedy quota, but it's also filled with gaping, chuckle-less holes of obviously envelope-pushing awkwardness, including awful racially-charged one-liners courtesy of Year One screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. These jokes would work wonders for Jane Lynch and Sue Sylvester, but for some reason they fall flat coming out of Diaz's mouth. And she's no stranger to darker comedy (Very Bad Things, The Sweetest Thing). Thankfully, the actually funny parts, including an awesomely bad ballad featuring only words that rhyme with "Sympatico," and a dolphin/shark debate, weren't in the trailers. So those giggles are definitely genuine.

Diaz tries her best to make Elizabeth an irresistible bitch, a grown-up, trust fund-less Regina George. But her usual tomboy 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 innuendos deserves something closer to a B (or even a C). Sometimes this sassy 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-

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