Friday, June 24, 2011
Movie review: Bad Teacher
Nasty and strangely sweet, but nothing to write home about.
Director Jake Kasdan's gross-out school-themed comedy Bad Teacher takes pains to take the low road on the way to garnering guilty giggles — until the final act, when it veers jarringly into sappy rom-com territory. (CRASH!)
What I mean is, this movie's uneven. But since it's also inconsequential, we don't particularly care.
Over the opening credits (set off by Michael Andrews' jangly, vaguely ominous score) we're treated to vintage scenes of teachers teaching, taken from (it looks like) instructional videos, '50s TV shows, and even that episode of The Three Stooges where Larry, Curly, and Moe, dressed up in graduate garb, do their "B A Bay! B E Bee!" routine (sans sound). The presence of these three numskulls sets the comic tone for things to come.
Glamor puss Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is leaving John Adams Middle School (aka JAMS) after teaching there for only a year — at least, she thinks she's leaving — and the faculty and staff are sad to see her go. It's tough to figure WHY they might rue her departure, though, because it's clear that no one has developed any sort of bond with her — the story is that she's kept to herself, spending as much time planning her high society wedding as working on lesson plans.
When her rich mama's boy fiance (Matt Faxon, as Mark) dumps her as a result of her extravagant spending habits, Halsey finds herself rooming with Kirk (Eric Stonestreet), a slacker dude she met on Craigslist who has chronic problems coming up with his half of the bargain basement rent.
Embittered and demoralized, Halsey finds herself in the crow-eating position of having to return next Fall to her teaching job at JAMS, where she determines to do as little work as humanly possible while maintaining her established pattern of turning up her nose at her peers. In terms of — or, more accurately, in lieu of — teaching, Halsey rolls a television set in front of the class and plays videotapes of movies about teachers. (Stand and Deliver leads off the video syllabus.) "Movies are the new books," Halsey later explains to gullible Principal Snur (John Michael Higgins), when students begin tattling on her lackadaisical teaching methods.
Making an effort to breach Halsey's fortress of solitude battlements are Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who goes to embarrassingly uncool lengths to engage her students (and would like everyone else on faculty to emulate her); and Ms. Davies (Phyllis Smith), a mousy milquetoast with a good heart and no one to share it with.
Into this stagnating mix comes studly substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who immediately engages Halsey's interest, and then puts a lock on it once she discovers he's heir to a luxury wristwatch fortune. Furthermore, Delacorte's coming off an unhappy split with his girlfriend, who — Halsey notes from her photo — has enormous breasts: a physical endowment she finds herself lacking.
And thus the driving force behind Halsey's motivations is crystallized: she sets out on a mission to acquire $10,000 so she can get a boob job, and make Scott (or somebody like Scott) want her madly.
Complicating Halsey's determination to bed and wed the watch magnate is Squirrel, who makes her own play for the cute-though-facile Delacorte. (In comparison to Halsey, she certainly has the boobs for it.) Meanwhile, gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel, playing things low-key and earnest) takes a straightforward approach to wooing the glamorous Halsey, who strives to make her disinterest in his Average Joe ways abundantly clear, even as he perseveres in pursuing her.
Devotees of blue material will find plenty of it here, particularly in terms of raunchy dialog. In most cases, the nasty, snicker-inducing conversation serves the greater cause of comedy. There's an ongoing gag where Halsey explains the reason for the cancellation of her wedding: She caught her fiancee, she variously explains, sleeping with another man ("shut the front door!", exclaims Squirrel); in bed with his own sister; attempting to prong the family dog ("Peanut butter everywhere!", Halsey elaborates).
But when it comes to sight gags, all too often the film descends to levels that border on the intentionally blatant and utterly distasteful. Reference the image of middle school kid displaying Weiner-worthy boner-bulge as he ogles scantily-clad Ms. Halsey washing cars to fund school projects (and pad her boob job fund); and the close-up of Delacorte's stained trousers following the — um — climax of an uncomfortably-extended scene that finds him dry-humping Halsey on a motel bed.
As we all know she must in the end — given that this is the kind of movie that doesn't aspire to thematic nuance or unexpected plot twists — Halsey eventually comes to her senses and realizes that she doesn't need silicone implants to win the man of her dreams. (Or, at least, her desultory ponderings.) Which I'm taking to be the moral of the story.
Diaz does serviceable duty as a foul-mouthed female version of the Jack Black character in School of Rock. At the ripe old age of going-on-40 she remains a feast for the eyes — whether using her body as a shammy to wipe down soaped-up autos, or impersonating a hot-to-trot, glasses-wearing reporter in order to snatch a copy of the latest state-mandated standardized academic test from the (desk) drawers of a horny board of education administrator. Scripters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (TV's The Office) get the blame for not providing her skinny character with a bit more sympathetic flesh.
WELL, THAT'S TOO LONG!: "When's the last time you had a good dicking?" - Halsey, to Ms. Davies
NO PROBLEM: "Sign my yearbook." - Halsey
"Hold my ball sack." - gym teacher Gettis