Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Bad Teacher" (2011)

Starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel
Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Rated R - Language, crude humor, sex
Running Time: 92 Minutes

A very typical movie is the "guys doing awful things" movie.  A well-worn genre, it has given rise to a few classics, from "Animal House" on to the recent "The Hangover."  What has rarely occurred, of course, is the "girls doing awful things" movie.  Earlier this summer, "Bridesmaids" came around and proved that women could be just as foul as anyone else.

Riding on its coattails is "Bad Teacher."

Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a shallow, self-centered gold-digger.  She's quitting her job as a seventh grade teacher on the eve of her wedding to some rich guy.  Unfortunately, he discovers that she happens to be a shallow, self-centered gold-digger and dumps her, forcing her to go back to a job she hates, dealing with people and kids she can't stand.  Elizabeth vows to meet a man who can take care of her, but to do that, she thinks she needs to get a fabulous pair of fake breasts.

At school, Elizabeth runs afoul of the school's nosy, bossy "perfect" teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) who recognizes that Elizabeth is a flat-out terrible teacher.  New to the school is young substitute Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) who happens to have access to lots and lots of family money.  Both Elizabeth and Amy set their sights on Scott, hoping to win him over.   At the same time, the gym teacher, Russ Gettis (Jason Segel) has his sights set on Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth's attempts to raise money for her boob job become increasingly dangerous.  When she discovers that the school gives a massive bonus to the teacher whose students score highest on a state standardized test, Elizabeth concocts a scheme to make sure hers come out on top.

"Bad Teacher" is one of those movies that, unfortunately, while it isn't bad simply doesn't live up to the promise of its trailer.  Some of the best jokes in the red band trailer above just aren't in the movie.  And at a spare 92 minutes, "Bad Teacher" feels like it's holding back for the inevitable "outrageous, unrated" DVD edition.

There's a lot of potential here, but "Bad Teacher" just comes across as... tame.  Every so often, it unleashes itself such as a painfully, awkwardly hilarious hotel room sex scene between Diaz and Timberlake, or some really great lines.  Diaz is clearly having a good time spouting her foul-mouthed dialogue, playing against her usual goofy, innocent characters.  In fact, everyone seems to be having fun, but it also seems extremely obvious that there are parts of "Bad Teacher" that are flat-out missing.  Certain lines and responses feel entirely wrong, as though there should be some kind of awful, hilarious, gut-busting one-liner there... but the actor instead just says, "oh no."

The relationship between Elizabeth and Russ the gym teacher is pretty intriguing.  Many films would have Elizabeth's inner bitch melt away as she grows closer to Russ, leading to a third-act turnaround in which she becomes both a great teacher and a very nice person.  What's fascinating about "Bad Teacher" is that it flat-out refuses to take that tack, instead making sure that we know Elizabeth really is a shallow, gold-digging bitch.  Further, Russ doesn't seem to care that she is... in fact, he enjoys it, and even plays with it at times.  It's an unusual path to take, and would make "Bad Teacher" all the more refreshing if it were just a funnier movie.

"Bad Teacher" is chuckle-worthy throughout its runtime, and has several laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled about, but it also drags fairly often.  It feels like too much footage has been cut out to save for the home video release, which is a shame because the trailer holds so much promise.  I find it hard to recommend running out to see "Bad Teacher," rather just to wait for it on video so you can (hopefully) see the film as it was meant to be.  It's too restrained, too tame, but hints at a movie that is bold and hilarious.  Where Kristen Wiig's "Bridesmaids" only rarely seemed to pull its punches, loading up its runtime with as much foul language and absurdity as it can muster, "Bad Teacher" always feels like it's afraid to let loose.

If you want to see women behaving badly, "Bridesmaids" is the way to go.

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