In the new film “Bad Teacher,” it’s obvious that Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a terrible educator. She runs away from crying students, smokes marijuana in the school’s parking lot and doesn’t even decorate her classroom. That’s right. In an elementary school where teachers often decorate their desks so much that the students don’t even know where to put their homework assignments, Elizabeth chooses to leave her desk bare. Worst of all, she says things like “in some ways, movies are the new books” and proceeds to show films to her students on a daily basis.
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As “Teacher” begins, Halsey is saying goodbye to the elementary school that she has taught at for one year. The other faculty members give her a party to say goodbye, but Halsey can’t wait to leave so she can start living off her fiance’s money. However, when she arrives home, her fiance is waiting there with his mother (always a bad sign) and the mother/son duo soon call off the engagement. A few miserable months later, Halsey returns to the classroom where her students have nothing to fear except for the wrath of their professor.
While showing her class well-known films like “Dangerous Minds” and “Stand by Me,” Halsey focuses on one thing: earning or stealing enough money to buy breast implants so she can find a new man to take care of her. When someone informs her how profitable the school car wash is, Halsey jumps to the chance to wash cars in a way that might make Paris Hilton blush. Unfortunately for her, Halsey’s goals for stealing money on this and other occasions are undermined by Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), a teacher so unabashedly peppy that her students seem embarrassed for her. As the story continues, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who says he’s pro-choice on everything except abortion, gets hired as a substitute teacher and Squirrel and Halsey begin fighting over him. In the meantime, the gym teacher (Jason Segel) desperately wants Halsey to go out with him.
Jake Kasdan, who previously directed the amusing comedy “Orange County,” directed “Bad Teacher” with none of the heart of that earlier movie and a lot more vulgarity. However, the raunchy jokes don’t work here like they did in the box office hit “Bridesmaids.” “Bad Teacher” is more offensive than amusing and features several gross gags.
If “Bad Teacher” was a three-act play, its first and its third acts (which rely on raunchiness) would be its weakest parts. The middle act, when Halsey decides to become an outstanding teacher to win a financial prize, is very funny. It’s too bad the movie didn’t use the same type of politically-incorrect but hilarious comedy throughout it. That would have made a decent, though hardly remarkable, film.
One of the greatest disappointments in “Bad Teacher” is its waste of a strong cast. Cameron Diaz does a wonderfully wicked job as the main character and Timberlake and Segel were well-chosen as supporting players.
Instead of seeing “Teacher,” I would recommend moviegoers rent the Bill Murray comedy “What About Bob?,” a film that “Teacher” often reminded me of. Both stories feature protagonists that may be unlikable in real life but who are fun to watch onscreen. Both stories also feature strait-laced characters who try to prove that the hero isn’t who he or she seems to be.
If Halsey was showing a classroom of students what great comedy looks like, she would show “Bob” and not the overly-raunchy but underwhelming “Bad Teacher.”