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Bad Teacher (**)

"Bad Teacher" has two main problems - Cameron Diaz and the screenplay...

How she ever got to be a teacher in the first place is irrelevant when it comes to John Adams Middle School English teacher, Elizabeth Hulsey. For whatever may have compelled her to get her degree in education, she put in her year and now wants to retire and get married to her fiance, Mark. Problem is her fiance, via incessant prodding from his mother, confronts Elizabeth and proclaims that the only reason she is with him is because he has millions of dollars in the bank. He’s not wrong. Now dumped, single, with no money available to speak of, Elizabeth needs to set new plans. And she does. When the school year comes back around, Elizabeth is back teaching and not happy at all about being there.

So Elizabeth drinks early, during, and after school. School-based film offerings such as “Stand And Deliver”, “Dangerous Minds”, and “Lean On Me” are the only curriculum she offers her English class. She is not above sneaking a bong hit or two in her car in the school parking lot and chastises a student for catching her. And newly single, she is on the hunt for a new man and finds a potential paramour in rich, preppy, and mild-mannered new teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Problem is, Elizabeth isn’t striking his fancy and worse yet, a new rivalry has formed with the exceptionally strange but apparently also very successful Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch). Amy is now teaching on the opposite side of the hall from Hulsey and takes great exceptions to Hulsey’s methods, if you will.

In an attempt to better herself and reverse the sands of time, Elizabeth begs her ex-fiance for $10,000 to pay for a breast augmentation procedure. When she is rejected, and the clinic will not take her on her word that she is good for the money, Elizabeth crowbars her way into the 7th grade car wash. Under the ruse of wanting to become more involved with the school, Elizabeth is granted the opportunity to manage the car wash and you can imagine where it goes from there.

Director Jake Kasdan has mined these depths before with gonzo, adult comedy in 2009′s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”. Like “Walk Hard”, “Bad Teacher” is really an ensemble piece and the best moments emanate from those he surrounds Diaz with. Lucy Punch as Ann Squirrell is manic, crazy, teetering, and often funny in her efforts to catch, frame, or match up to Elizabeth until the end. Amy walks a fine line because as the principal (John Michael Higgins) reminds her, we do not want another 2008 on our hands.

Justin Timberlake is good as the reserved and soft-spoken Scott and gets the shock-and-awe scene with Diaz late in the film. “Modern Family”‘s Eric Stonestreet (Cameron on the hit ABC sitcom) is almost unrecognizable here, playing Hulsey’s roommate who is just blissfully unaware of anything happening around him, but always looking for a way to make some money.

The best performance comes from Jason Segel as Russell, the “Bad P.E. Teacher” of sorts who is quite smitten with a seemingly uninterested Ms. Hulsey. Segel exhibits terrific timing throughout and delivers snarky one-liners where best appropriate. Segel, memorable from 2008′s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and television’s “How I Met Your Mother”, seems a bit underrated to me and this is a good reminder of how good he can be.

And then that brings us to the film’s problems, and they are basically two-fold. Cameron Diaz and the screenplay. The film is a mess conceptually. Restrained in large part from their work on the popular U.S. sitcom, “The Office”, screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg write this film as if they either just came out of detention or a lengthy isolated grounding from their parents, or they just hit puberty. There are funny moments throughout as indicated above, but the film feels unrestrained and without cohesiveness, unoriginal and notably not all that shocking. When the film loses its momentum, that pesky bug called thought started to run around in my head.

Why is Elizabeth a teacher in the first place; I mean she did have to go through several years of college to get a degree, right? This woman – (this woman) spent all those years going to college for an entry level position in education. Willing suspension of disbelief is required I know, but come on…really?!?

Cameron Diaz dives feet first into a relatively risky pool and proves that this really isn’t the film she should be making. She tries really, really hard to sell Elizabeth Hulsey on those watching the film and admittedly, she curses constantly and more vulgar than ever before, engages in rather abhorrent behavior, and seemed willing to go wherever the screenplay took her. Undoubtedly, she had a great time playing this role. And that’s good because on screen, it fails to translate well. Diaz is, at best, only amusing here and is constantly upstaged by her supporting ensemble. I applaud her for trying something edgy and out of her comfort zone, but this flat and often desperate performance just rings
hollow more often than not.

To my distress, the film goes for schmaltz and redemptive life lesson speak late in the film and you simply do not care to see Elizabeth or Scott or Amy or Russell make this life journey. You just want to laugh. And for long periods of time, you just chuckle, bemused at what crazy thing just tried to steal your laughter away.

The latest R-rated shock comedy to arrive in theaters, “Bad Teacher” is an easy watch; if you don’t mind crude and vulgar humor and comically over-the-top characters. Certainly everyone is on board with the wackiness and button pushing as the ensemble acting around Diaz’s character steal the show. Diaz gives this her all, but ultimately what makes the movie entertaining are actors whose given names are not Cameron Diaz.

What do you think?

Written by Michael Ward

My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.

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