Schoolhouse comedy gets mediocre marks

Schoolhouse comedy gets mediocre marks

‘Bad Teacher’

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rated: R

Note the “R” rating above. Don’t take your kids to see this, or the slew of other like-rated comedies that are in theaters. I’m always amazed when I see toddlers roaming the aisles during these films. The titular adjective in this title can be taken many ways and most of them involve things I wouldn’t want to watch with my parents.

That little screed aside, there is good and bad to “Bad Teacher.” Though this latest entry into what is becoming a new genre — “the raunchy comedy” — falls far short of others like “Bridesmaids” and “Hangover 2,” it can boast Cameron Diaz, who is on fire as morally compromised, burned out English teacher Elizabeth Halsey, a stone-cold cynic who only holds down a classroom so she can make enough money for the breast augmentation she thinks will snag her a rich husband.

She has her sights set on the new substitute played by former flame Justin Timberlake, a mild-mannered milquetoast with family money named Delacorte. But it’s the P.E. coach (Jason Segel) who sees the good in the bad Elizabeth. Director Jake Kasdan makes sure we understand just how bad she is by having her do everything from drinking, sleeping and getting high on the job while her students watch movies every day to stealing her kids’ car wash fundraiser money and selling the school’s lost and found items to a local charity. The ill-gotten funds she saves for her boob job.

As much as Kasdan tries to capture that winning formula of raunchy fun that audiences are clamoring for, it never quite gets there. The script is disjointed, settling for comedy bits instead of anything resembling a storyline, and it doesn’t exploit Elizabeth’s dark side enough. If she’s bad, then unleash it like Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa.” Even so, Diaz is fearless in her comedy choices — anything for a laugh — such as portraying a character that is so blatantly unredeemable.This teacher’s snarkiness is not just reserved for the adults in her life. That’s bad enough, but she also unleashes her scorched-earth attitude on unwitting seventh-graders in her class, and while some of her candor is funny, it stings. Take for instance her brutal honesty with the class nerd as she tells him he’s never going to get the popular girl and his best years are ahead of him when he gets to in college. But she offers this with the caveat of “maybe.” Ouch.

While Diaz brings a cruel vigor and earthy sassiness to her part, equally as good is Lucy Punch as the rival teacher who starts to unravel when Elizabeth thwarts her goody-goody attitude at every turn. Punch, who played the deranged girlfriend in “Dinner for Schmucks,” has great timing and competes with Diaz for laughs throughout.

The cast is also peppered with TV funsters on hiatus like Eric Stonestreet from “Modern Family” as Elizabeth’s slobby roommate and Phyllis Smith from “The Office,” probably the only teacher who considers Elizabeth a friend. And even though Diaz and Timberlake have real history, it’s Segel that she has more chemistry with here.

Like the phrase most often checked on my report cards, there is “room for improvement” with this movie, but I give it a passing grade of B-.

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