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Cameron Diaz Commits Sin of Boredom in ‘Bad Teacher’

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Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – If you’re going to be bad, be bad. But this is mainstream Hollywood “product,” starring Cameron Diaz, and while the concept of the new film “Bad Teacher” had promise, it eventually fell down on the weight of happy resolutions and the worse mortal sin for a comedy…it was dull.

Director Jake Kasdan, who has been much more interesting in previous films (”Zero Effect,” “Orange County,” “The TV Set”) gets bogged down with a passive aggressive script, by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and wastes a pretty talented comic cast. The ensemble gamely tries to deliver some wooden material and despite some individual moments, can’t deliver the overall goodness of the “badness.”

Cameron Diaz is middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey, who is leaving her job at the John Adams academy, somewhere in Illinois (near Chicago, but never spelled out). She is off to marry her rich fiancé and live the glamorous life she thinks she deserves. Her happiness turns to shock when her sugar daddy dumps her, and the former teacher is now forced to go back to John Adams with no prospects, except the weak notion that if she gets a boob job the right rich guy will come her way.

Elizabeth hates her teaching life now, especially since she is right across the hall from super-educator Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) and can’t relate to fellow teachers Lynn (Phyllis Smith from TV’s “The Office”) and Russell (Jason Segel). The tide turns a bit when a new substitute named Scott (Justin Timberlake) is revealed to be from a wealthy family. Elizabeth and Amy suddenly become rivals for the same man, and the situation escalates when the bad teacher seems to be losing out to the good teacher.

Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth is About to Make a Point in ‘Bad Teacher’
Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth is About to Make a Point in ‘Bad Teacher’
Photo credit: Gemma Lamana for Columbia Pictures

As the academic year rolls along, Elizabeth keeps saving for her plastic surgery, the randy gym teacher Russell keeps pining after her charms and Principal Wally Snur (John Michael Higgins) struggles to make sense of it all. To misquote Bill Murray from “Tootsie,” that is one nutty schoolhouse.

In the tradition of “Bad Lieutenant,” screenwriters Stupnitsky and Eisenberg tried to concoct the same atmosphere for a learning institution, but can’t pull the trigger. Cameron Diaz is willing to be bad, smoking pot and generally screwing her classroom out of a decent education, but in the end gets to make her transition to “good egg” without the benefit of any decent form of redemption. The script feels rewritten from a harsher form, to accommodate the sudden luck of interest from Diaz for the role, and the gathering of a talented comic actor cast. What may have been a killer satire becomes a forced exercise in movie star marketing.

Everyone in the cast have been better elsewhere, and this film will be a detriment to their resumes. Jason Segal, sitcom star and the disciple of Judd Apatow, was absent as the randy gym coach and is given the thankless job of being on the sidelines waiting for Diaz to come around. Justin Timberlake, one of Diaz’s real life ex-lovers, gets to uncomfortably reenact their past, with a weird dry humping scene that had a TMZ-style vibe. Phyllis Smith is essentially reworking her role as Phyllis on The Office, and comes off best, especially in the scenes when she’s trying to be cool like the Bad Teacher but ends up contradicting herself.

Lucy Punch played an odd role. In many ways, she is “hotter” than her rival Cameron Diaz as portrayed in the film, but the plot circumstances of the rivalry means she will eventually lose out, and she becomes a whipping post for some very tired bits (not the old oozing rash gag!). Punch has screen appeal and obvious comic talent, this script chose to squelch what could have been a more interesting character, just to make Cameron look less bad. Who cares?

As mentioned, Cameron Diaz was willing to take on a persona of complete anti-social behavior and had some moments of anti-society that were enjoyable. But as soon as she strips down to Daisy Duke shorts and starts playing sexpot at a school car wash, the anarchistic atmosphere switches to a call-the-cops scenario. She is blunt regarding what she wants (money, attention) yet vague regarding any other emotion. She wants to help out her class nerd by telling him about real life, but ends up pulling a stunt that would most likely result in a mug shot. Anarchy is a sharp-edged narrative device, and Bad Teacher falls on the sword.

Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel (Russell) and Justin Timberlake (Scott) in ‘Bad Teacher’
Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel (Russell) and Justin Timberlake (Scott) in ‘Bad Teacher’
Photo credit: Gemma Lamana for Columbia Pictures

Comedies that have stellar funny people in the cast but cannot deliver proves that one hundred percent of great laugh films start with a decent script. The director then can take that decent script and tweak it to allow the talent to comedically shine. In Bad Teacher, the script had potential but was obviously watered down to fit a certain movie star image. In this case, the production should have taken a chance as an independent film, discovering new talent who truly want to be bad all the way.

This film is also part of a this summer’s trend (see “Bridesmaids”) for women to join the parade of R-rated subversiveness, usually reserved for the guys. Well, dammit, let’s get down to some R-rated action, not some dishwater dry humping from a famous ex-couple reliving in art what they couldn’t get right in real life.

”Bad Teacher” opens everywhere on June 24th. Featuring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, Phyllis Smith and John Michael Higgins. Screenplay by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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