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Cameron Diaz in a scene from "Bad Teacher." (Gemma LaMana/AP)
Cameron Diaz in a scene from "Bad Teacher." (Gemma LaMana/AP)

Movie review

Bad Teacher needs a better lesson plan Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

Shame the flick's just a one-note joke because, sight unseen, Bad Teacher had me at the title. I mean, we've all experienced some bad ones, more than a few - the recognition factor is off the charts and so, potentially, are the laughs. And who hasn't grown weary of all those good teachers hogging the screen? In the movies (if nowhere else), educators are typically a dedicated bunch forever teaching math to the clueless or music to the tuneless or otherwise inspiring the intellectually challenged.

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It's high time, then, to bid goodbye to Mr. Chips and say hello to Miss Halsey, who is refreshingly foul-mouthed and mean-minded and dedicated only to her narcissistic pursuits. Bad Teacher should be a hoot. But it isn't. Love the theory here, hate the practice.

The single note is struck early when Miss H., drawn to the profession by the classic motives of "short hours, summers off, no accountability," is seen in front of the class applying her patented pedagogical methods: Show the students a movie, fall asleep at her desk. From there, the kids pretty much disappear and the script lumbers off on its own lesson plan. How's this for instructional: Halsey (Cameron Diaz) determines that the best way to find herself a rich husband is to buy herself bigger boobs. Surgery is expensive; money must be raised.

Now, if, as comedic narratives go, this strikes you as a trifle thin, not to worry. Clearly a cum laude graduate of the no-plot school of cinema, director Jake Kasdan has a ready answer. In lieu of a movie, he gives us scenes. Oh, lots of scenes. Like the one at the fundraising car wash, where Cameron gets to wear really short shorts and a wet shirt. Or the one at the plastic surgeon's office, where she (and we right along with her) get to gaze fondly at samples of the doc's handiwork. Or like the one in the bar where Justin Timberlake (the rich potential hubby) gets to wear Clark Kent glasses while playing the guitar badly and singing worse - a spectacle of ineptness that Timberlake fans will find amusing and non-fans will find unsurprising.

And don't forget the scene in the men's washroom - always a reliable source of toilet humour. Speaking of potty mouth, the joke's one note is pitched in the key of R for Restricted, which liberates Miss Halsey et al. to speak many of those words-which-I-can't-repeat-here. Of course, it also frees the writers from any compelling need to be clever. When in doubt, just have the teach dole out another F.

Anyway, in her twin quest for lucre and mammarian largesse, the bad teacher must contend with her nemesis, the good teacher, whose name, Amy Squirrel, pretty much says it all. Actually, that's not true - I do the comedy a grave injustice. When obliged to eat an apple laced with poison ivy, Amy Squirrel undergoes a hilarious metamorphosis into Amy Blotchy-Red-Faced Squirrel.

Still, let's be fair and do what teachers do: Mark this thing on a bell curve and, thus, search hard for anyone or anything that merits a passing grade. Sorry, not Cameron. Admittedly, casts are blameless in these under-written, overinflated affairs, and Kasdan does his star no favours by lighting her to look less like an avid gold digger than a tired harlot. Nevertheless, Cameron doesn't exactly improve matters, unless you count turning a thankless role into a desperately thankless role.

So the search continues. Oh wait. Watch closely and there's Jason Segel as the phys-ed guy: He doesn't say much, but, as he surveys the mirthless mania around him, his silences speak volumes. Even better, sometimes his silences speak funny volumes. Yep, give Jason full marks and ask yourself if this conforms to your school experience: In Bad Teacher, the gym teacher is the smartest of the lot and the sole saving grace.

Bad Teacher

  • Directed by Jake Kasdan
  • Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
  • Starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel
  • Classification: 14A


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