Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bad Movie: BAD TEACHER

Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is mean, deceitful, and superficial. She enters each and every social situation with only one goal: getting out with whatever will benefit her the most. She’s also a middle-school teacher, the kind that sleeps behind the desk and shows movies everyday. She is the eponymous Bad Teacher. When she’s not skating by, doing the bare minimum required, she’s romantically pursuing the hot substitute with a rich family (Justin Timberlake) while being pursued by the sweet, kind of dumpy gum teacher (Jason Segel).

This sounds like a high-quality setup for a comedy, especially with this usually charming cast, but it’s just not funny. In Elizabeth Halsey, Cameron Diaz, who can be a great comedienne, gets a part that is certainly a more inherently interesting character than she usually gets to sink her teeth into. The problem is the central miscalculation that we'll care about this character just because she's unrepentantly bad, dressing provocatively, swearing, drinking, doing drugs, behaving recklessly. I don't care that she misbehaves because she goes about it for entirely unremarkable reasons.

First, she wants to get a breast augmentation and decides to save up for it, embezzling and lying her way into more cash. Then, she decides to go after the rich sub. Then, she hears about a bonus for the teacher with the class with the highest test scores, so she wants to become a great teacher long enough to get the cash prize. With all these competing selfish motivations laid out in a flat, unremarkable way it’s hard to get a hold of any one tangible reason to care.

The plot's just a shambles that can't be saved by the actors who are given thin unconvincing characters to play. Supporting characters appear and disappear with oddly inconsequential wispiness despite funny work being done by Phillis Smith, Lucy Punch, John Michael Higgins, Thomas Lennon, and Eric Stonestreet. They drop in and out of the plot with alarming unpredictability. Where do they go when they aren’t showing up to do their required bits? There’s no sense that any of these characters have lives that exist outside the frame.

If the tone weren’t as messy as the plot, I’d be more inclined to cut it some slack. The screenplay by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, of The Office, is neither mean enough nor sweet enough. They want to have their bile and excuse it away too. This is a particularly strange flaw since director Jake Kasdan usually gets the balance right, like in his underrated teen comedy Orange County, underseen showbiz satire The TV Set, or his biopic parody Walk Hard, which manages the difficult feat of mocking while still finding ways to be moving. Bad Teacher just doesn’t work, which is all the more disappointing since it seems to have all the raw materials of a movie that would actually be funny.

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