By Carl Kozlowski
Sometimes a movie comes along that is so terrible that one can only wonder what went wrong. Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz as a terrible person who somehow lands a teaching job, is such a film.
The threadbare plot revolves around Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz), a foul-mouthed gold digger who learns that her wealthy fiancé is breaking up with her on orders from his mother. Left without her financial lifeline, Elizabeth finds work as a high school teacher, one who has nothing but contempt for her fellow teachers and her students.
Elizabeth is so unwilling to do anything remotely educational that most days she plugs in the DVD and shows movies about teachers, like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds.
While this idea is funny in split-second bursts, with slack-jawed students wondering why they never seem to be given anything challenging to do, the running gag is also indicative of the lack of effort put into the script by Bad screenwriters Gene Kupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg.
Elizabeth, who smokes pot constantly and comes to work hung over, gets caught in two battles for her attention. She sees rich, new teacher Scott Delacorte (Timberlake) pull up in a fancy sports car and immediately throws herself at him. At the same time, she deflects the attentions of average-Joe gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel). Meanwhile, veteran teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) wants to bring down Elizabeth, particularly once Amy realizes she’s conducting a series of scams to finance new breasts.
Maybe this plot doesn’t sound too bad on paper. Somebody thought it could be passably funny amid the current rash of raunchy R-rated comedies. But I’m an easy target for that kind of film. I love flicks like The Hangover and There’s Something About Mary. Still, this didn’t work for me.
For something to be funny to me, the characters have to be taking a humorous swipe at some form of recognizable human behavior, as well as turning aspects of normal, everyday life upside down. That’s attempted here, but it doesn’t work.
In this film, the only character that is remotely likable is gym teacher Russell, and in portraying him Segel is left with the thankless job of impressing Elizabeth, trying to show her that he can make up for being broke by being fun. Everyone else is such a garish, overplayed freak that it starts to feel like a second-grade home movie version of what these filmmakers think is a naughty comedy.
Diaz is so brazenly obnoxious that she only briefly elicits audience sympathy near the end, when some studio head must have realized that they had to come up with a happy ending to trick audiences into a vague sense of satisfaction.
Timberlake, meanwhile, is stunningly off-key as Delacorte, who is wealthy but inexplicably a virgin and hyper-religious.
A scene in which he has a chance to have sex with Elizabeth and merely dry humps her in various positions is so preposterous that it falls totally flat.
Then again, much like the scenes of kids watching TV in class illustrated the half-hearted writing that went into the film, this scene seems to be emblematic of the project as a whole.