Title: Bad Teacher

Directed By: Jake Kasdan

Written By: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon

Screened at: E-Walk, NYC, 6/21/11

Opens: June 24, 2011

During my earliest days of teaching high school in New York, our union approved a strike vote. We won the strike, but the turnout was poor in elementary school (supposedly populated by frightened people or women who were simply making extra money for the family and were content), medium effective in high school, and terrific in junior highs. I was told that the junior highs-because of the difficulties of teaching kids that age-would have the hippest, most dedicated teachers, not the kind to accept the low pay that was endemic in school systems pre-union. Now they’re called middle schools, they deal with kids at a difficult time developmentally, and they still have the hippest teachers. Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky want us in the audience to realize this, though what they consider hip is not necessarily what others might. On the one hand the adults in John Adams Middle School in Chicago are an interesting bunch, some organized into a band that plays at bars, but another is an individual who deviates from the norm by being a foul-talking, drug-taking, goof-off who plays movies for the kids throughout the first week of the term. But that’s OK since she’s not in the field because she loves kids but because she’s waiting to get married to a rich guy who will take her away from it all. When the rich guy confronts her and, together with his mother says “it’s over,” she has to look elsewhere for a sugar daddy. She finds one at the school and works on him.

That’s the basic idea of “Bad Teacher” which is not a Bad Movie but not a terrific one either. Much of the humor, which is directed at us by Jake Kasdan as a series of skits, is forced, though the timing is fine. It’s the old story: life is easy, comedy is hard.

Still there is something here to entertain the audience and prove good for a modest number of chuckles, though there’s nothing at all surprising in the vulgarities which became the norm in movies directed toward the young ever since Cameron Diaz shocked us in the Farrelly Brothers’ “There’s Something About Mary.” “Bad Teacher,” which could have come from the genius of the same brothers, finds Diaz teamed up not with Matt Dillon and Ben Stiller but with Justin Timberlake as the rich guy doing sub work for whatever reason and Jason Segel as the gym teacher who announces in advance to the pretty woman that he will be putting the moves on her all year.

Failing to shock viewers and being middle-of-the-road when the audience wants more than it got from previous films of this type are not the best formula, but there is some amusement in the antics of Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) who never bothers to learn the names of her students nor does she have an attendance book or much of paraphernalia of molders of young minds. She has no money, yet her dream after making her first ten thousand bucks is to get herself a pair of boobs from a plastic surgeon (David Paymer)—which she doesn’t need but that tells you something of her values. When she hears that the teacher whose kids score highest on a state exam gets a bonus of $5,700, she announces that there will be changes. She’s all over the students with instruction now, determined to beat Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), a redhead eccentric who calls the principal, Wally Snur (John Michael Higgins) “Wall” and who sometimes pals around with Melody (Molly Shannon), a “plain” teacher who is anything but hip who has no objection to listening attentively to Elizabeth’s lessons in vulgarity.

The skits include a car-wash scene that finds Elizabeth in tight denim shorts washing car windows as though posing for Penhouse magazine; Elizabeth doing her best to cause grief to Amy Squirrell; and Elizabeth drugging the man in charge in of state tests and blackmailing him in the only way she knows how. The result is a picture that does not shock, whose jokes fall flat, and who crudities are labored.

Rated R. 92 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Story: C

Acting: B-

Technical: B-

Overall: C+

Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher
Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher

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