Bad Teacher (Rated R) 2 Stars
From an objective standpoint, Bad Teacher (92 minutes) should have been super funny. The pedigree promises inappro-priate jokes that make the audience laugh despite themselves. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have done some very funny episodes of The Office, and Director Jake Kasdan did an amazing job with 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Too bad the concept fails horribly.
Much like lead Diaz’s other attempts to play nasty (Very Bad Things, The Sweetest Thing), Bad Teacher falls completely flat, primarily because there is never any depth to her nastiness. She is not particularly funny as a “bad” teacher, mostly because she re-ally isn’t that much of a bad teacher. I mean, she’s no Mr. Chips, but she is more apathetic than bad. You could call her a “bad per-son,” but there isn’t a whole lot there to distinguish her badness from the badness of any other character in the film. And honestly, when you come right down to it, when you put together a movie of this kind you need to push the envelope to get the laughs, and this is all very standardized.
And her nemesis, Lucy Punch, is pretty in a quirky way, but plays Ms. Squirrel as very passive aggressive. The film as a whole would have been far more satisfying if the two female leads had gotten a bit more physical. If you’re going for gross-out humor, you have to mean it. There should have been punch-ing, poo flinging, full frontal exposure ala Waiting ... and instead, we get a faceful of poison ivy and inappropriate displays of adolescent sexuality.
The major problem seems to be that neither the film, nor the actors, knows what is supposed to be going on. Is the film funny because everyone is so hate-ful? Is the film funny because teenagers are clueless and the bad teacher tells them how stupid they are? Is the film funny because the bad teacher embezzles (but only a little bit) and steals an exam (which emphasizes memorization and rote learning rather than true understanding or creative thought)?
Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) plans to marry rich and wrap up her career as a teacher. One wonders how she became a teacher in the first place, since you generally need to pass a certain number of teaching reviews and competency exams, but whatever. One might also wonder how she managed to convince her fiancée to get engaged in the first place, since the moment his mom steps in her plans are blown, because she is in no way sincere. But then, the fiancée is as dumb as a box of hammers, so mystery solved. In fact, all the men in the movie are as dumb as a box of hammers.
Principle Wally Snur (John Michael Higgens) has a bizarre dolphin fetish and fails to call Ms. Halsey on any of her be-havior. Substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) is a milquetoast who is supposedly in love with one teacher, but ends up in bed with Ms. Halsey for no obvious reason. Of course, that lack of on-screen chemistry might be related to the fact that they are real life exes. State Testing Dude Carl Halabi (Thomas Lennon) is dumb enough to get tricked by an Annie wig, drugged, and blackmailed … and I am not buying that he was in any way interested in her to begin with. And let’s not even mention the gym teacher! As a romantic lead, Jason Segel is just starting to move past picking up the roles that Seth Rogen rejects as too schmoopy … but his interest in this chick is never adequately explained. He doesn’t get enough screen time to flesh out the relationship, and he doesn’t come off as the type to pursue someone so clearly dysfunctional.
Mostly, the film moves from sketch to sketch to illustrate that Elizabeth is a bad teacher long after the audience has got-ten the message. Yes, some of the jokes work. Too bad most of them don’t.