by Ryan Hill
With the title “Bad Teacher,” it’s pretty clear the studio’s goal was to make a comedy about a raunchy teacher in the vein of “Bad Santa” with Cameron Diaz in place of Billy Bob Thornton.
Diaz is Elizabeth, a teacher with a bad attitude and an even worse mouth. She’s been dumped by her rich fiancé and now she’s on the prowl for another man she can gold dig. Enter substitute teacher Scott (played by Diaz’s former real-life beau Justin Timberlake) whose family owns a watch company. Elizabeth gets the idea that to land Scott she has to scrounge up enough money to get breast implants, as Scott seems to like well-endowed women.
And that’s about as far as the paper-thin plot goes for “Bad Teacher.” You also have Amy Squirrel, the goody two-shoes rival for both a teacher award and Scott’s affection, played with aplomb by Lucy Punch, but her motives for ruining Elizabeth are ridiculous as it’s clear right off the bat Scott likes her and she’s a much better teacher, even if she’s slightly annoying with her unyielding energy.
Everyone in the cast is all-in for the laughs. Jason Segel seems to be having the time of his life playing a gym teacher who’s the opposite of his character on “How I Met Your Mother.” The problem with “Bad Teacher” lies with the screenplay written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, both of whom are producers on the quickly-fading American version of “The Office” and co-writers of the dead-on-arrival Jack Black/Michael Cera dud “Year One.”
As in “Year One,” the comedy here relies on one-off bits that provide some witty banter and maybe a funny scene. While that works in sitcoms, comedy best serves a film when it’s building toward something, and the writers and director Jake Kasdan have no intentions of building “Bad Teacher” into anything beyond forced comedy and the occasional laugh out loud bit.
Most of the laughs come from the TV stars in the film. Segal, Phyllis Smith and Eric Stonestreet (the latter two of “The Office” and “Modern Family,” respectively) know how to squeeze all the comedy these one-off scenes have to offer. Diaz is spirited playing against that type, but ultimately doesn’t have much to do aside from being raunchy.
The fun of “Bad Santa” was that Thornton’s depravity was given some gravity by his adolescent sidekick. “Bad Teacher” has no such center, as everyone is off-kilter for one reason or another. Amy Squirrel should be that character, but is so batty herself that the film simply becomes a series of scenes taped together into a feature film.
“Bad Teacher” isn’t necessarily a bad movie; it is a perfectly decent way to pass 90 minutes. The problem is the throwaway plot and mostly forgettable scenes mean that five minutes after the credits roll, half the film will be erased from your memory, leaving you to wonder what the point of it all was to begin with.
Grade: 2.5/4 stars