Some teachers just don't give an F. For example, there's Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz). She's foul-mouthed, ruthless, and inappropriate. She drinks, she gets high, and she can't wait to marry her meal ticket and get out of her bogus day job. When she's dumped by her fiancé, she sets her plan in motion to win over a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake) – competing for his affections with an overly energetic colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch). When Elizabeth also finds herself fighting off the advances of a sarcastic, irreverent gym teacher (Jason Segel), the consequences of her wild and outrageous schemes give her students, her co-workers, and even herself an education like no other.

Diaz schools co-stars in comic misfire.

In Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz has an air of unconcerned defiance that’s matched with long, woozy limbs that can’t quite support her or her ambitions. As junior high school teacher Elizabeth Halsey, her rarely appreciated comic traits are revealed as Diaz stumbles into frame, curls up beneath her desk, and generally tries not to tower over the next male she has designs on. Intent on becoming a wealthy man’s kept wife – the movie opens with her fiancé and his aggrieved mother evicting her – Elizabeth is so caught up in her own selfish desires that she can’t be bothered maintaining a front: she ignores her pubescent students, insults her co-workers, and talks about her fiscal needs with the frankness of a merchant banker awaiting his bonus.

She is, in short, great fun as Hollywood protagonists go, a dope-tinged update of screwball eccentricity and Billy Wilder’s cynical anti-heroes. But the film simply doesn’t do enough to let the character shine. Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, who can at least stop apologising for Year One now, Bad Teacher mistakes raunchy one-liners for comic potential. Too often scenes get their kicks from Diaz’s take no prisoners line readings, and while her assertive, foul-mouthed vocabulary is amusingly frank – especially when it’s bouncing off her demure colleague, Lynn Davies (The Office’s Phyllis Smith) – it lacks for sustained invention.

Like her spiritual forebear, Billy Bob Thornton’s crook in Bad Santa, Elizabeth has her goals, in this case scraping together $10,000 for a breast enlargement, believing that’s what will win her the affections of the new substitute teacher, wealthy scion Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). But the plot can barely sustain a decent length dialogue scene (they’re also unevenly lit) that draws the humour from conflicting character traits, and it’s made painfully obvious that the sardonic gym teacher, Russell Gettiss (Jason Segel), is a far better match for Elizabeth despite his relative poverty.

Few, if any, of the laughs come what you’ve learnt to understand about these people. The picture does, however, a better job of detailing Elizabeth’s loopy faculty rival, Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), who begins by pitying Elizabeth’s lack of professionalism and then becomes steadily more enraged when the slacker executes a volte-face and tries to teach her pupils so as to win a financial reward for the school’s best educator. Amy’s manic optimism is full of tics and chirpy warning signs, and the more she tries to mask her rage the funnier her sunny side up optimism gets.

Unfortunately the man they both pursue, Scott, is a nebbish blank. Apart from one peculiar sex scene (of a sort), he’s like an anonymous trophy to Elizabeth, and while Timberlake has fun playing a nerd, Kasdan (who hasn’t ended up near where his idiosyncratic 1998 debut, Zero Effect, suggested he might) and the writers can’t do anything that makes Elizabeth, or the audience, look at him anew.

Bad Teacher
is a little too satisfied with its limited repertoire. In America, where it’s been a commercial success, it was marketed as an R rated comedy, but the illusion of being adults only fare doesn’t extend to Australia and an M rating. The movie is intermittently funny and often amusing, but it’s neither subversive nor uproarious. Based on what she contributed, Cameron Diaz deserves more.

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1 hour 32 min
In Cinemas 23 June 2011,
Wed, 11/23/2011 - 11