Compared to some of the underwhelming R-rated comedies of late - "Hangover II" and "Hall Pass," for example - the darkly humorous "Bad Teacher" seems downright inspiring. Sure, the plot is paper thin, but more than half of the time the movie is funny, even if the jokes aren't cutting edge. Director Jake Kasdan offers no surprises, but it's not the worst 90 minutes you'll spend at the multiplex this summer, that's for sure.


 


Cameron Diaz plays the titular teacher, Elizabeth Halsey, whose main objective in life is scheming to get a boob job. Foul-mouthed, uncouth and brash, she's only teaching at John Adams Middle School because her wealthy fiance dumped her for being a blatant gold digger. Now she's angling to come up with the 10 grand needed for the bigger breasts, which she believes will attract a rich husband.


Compared to some of the underwhelming R-rated comedies of late - "Hangover II" and "Hall Pass," for example - the darkly humorous "Bad Teacher" seems downright inspiring. Sure, the plot is paper thin, but more than half of the time the movie is funny, even if the jokes aren't cutting edge. Director Jake Kasdan offers no surprises, but it's not the worst 90 minutes you'll spend at the multiplex this summer, that's for sure.

 

Cameron Diaz plays the titular teacher, Elizabeth Halsey, whose main objective in life is scheming to get a boob job. Foul-mouthed, uncouth and brash, she's only teaching at John Adams Middle School because her wealthy fiance dumped her for being a blatant gold digger. Now she's angling to come up with the 10 grand needed for the bigger breasts, which she believes will attract a rich husband.

 

With legs more suitable for a dance pole than a seventh-grade classroom, Diaz is the ultimate hot-for-teacher fantasy. But it's utterly implausible that she'd be allowed to don barely there miniskirts, spiked heels and lipstick in the shade of hooker-red. But she does. Her teaching technique is to show movies like "Stand and Deliver" while she sneaks nips of Jim Beam. She wouldn't last a week in any real-life school system. But she does. And so, you go along with the story, written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who together wrote the abysmal "Year One" and are tapped to pen the script for "Ghostbusters III." They don't take you anywhere unexpected, but the ride sure is fun, mainly due to the performances.

 

Diaz's former flame Justin Timberlake ("The Social Network") shows up as a nerdy-but-sorta-sexy substitute teacher, who's sitting on a family fortune. Timberlake's turn is pure camp, and he looks like he's having a ball, not taking himself or the material too seriously. So what if his scenes feel like those outrageous shorts he does on "SNL" - heck, one of those won him an Emmy. Jason Segel ("I Love You Man") is the good-guy gym teacher who's sweet on Elizabeth and should have been given more to do than play the puppy dog with a crush. From the second he shows up, it's clear he'll be the catalyst for Elizabeth's change of heart. The real ace in hole in "Bad Teacher," is British actress Lucy Punch, playing Diaz's zany nemesis, Amy Squirrel. Punch ("Dinner for Schmucks") is the goody-goody teacher, so over-the-top cheerful that she's a bit hard to like, and Punch plays it perfectly deranged, as the character becomes unhinged. Fellow teacher Phyllis Smith from "The Office" steals every scene she's in, playing an introverted teacher.



Without a solid story, a film can only ride on the shoulders of its talented cast for so long. That's what happens here. It's all very one-note and uneven. Kasdan seems content to go after the cheap laugh (sweaty armpit stains, exploding bowels) or the cheap titillation with cliches (Diaz's scantily-clad car-wash scene). OK, so the poop joke really was funny, but it's still a poop joke. And, the "sex" scene between Timberlake and Diaz is a cringe-inducing riot.

 

Between Elizabeth's bong hits, questionable behavior and insubordination, she shows she really has a heart, naturally. However, her lukewarm moment of redemption isn't anything grand, otherwise it'd be a total sellout. Her aha moment comes as she's telling it straight to a geeky boy that it'll never happen between him and the pretty popular girl. That girl is superficial with messed up priorities. Perhaps there's even a lesson here for parents and teachers to stop sugarcoating everything.

 

Most of the humor stems from Elizabeth's bad behavior, and for her part, Diaz effortlessly delivers filthy dialogue, none of which is appropriate to quote in a family newspaper. She also spews racist digs at Jews and the Japanese and readily engages in sexual innuendo. Sometimes it works, other times it misfires because it's trying too hard to be edgy. What's missing most, though, is the wit and charm of films such as "Bridesmaids" or "Knocked Up." Perhaps some of that cleverness would raise this "Teacher's" grade.

 

BAD TEACHER (R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.) Cast includes Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch. Directed by Jake Kasdan. 2.5 stars out of 4.