Bad Teacher (Columbia Pictures, R)

If you’re going to give us a protagonist who’s a morally bankrupt bitch, she had damn well better have a challenge ahead of her.

 

 

Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) has a problem. Her wealthy fiancé has dumped her and now, with her dreams of an easy life crumbling before her, Elizabeth needs to find a new patsy to get her out of her teaching job at John Adams Middle School. How to attract a new rich guy who won’t question her spending habits? Well, that’s easy—bigger boobs of course!

When Elizabeth returns for another dismal year at school, she sets her sights on substitute teacher Scott (Justin Timberlake), a fine specimen who drives a fancy car and happens to be the heir of a big-time watchmaker. Meanwhile, love-struck gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) tries to woo Elizabeth with his raunchy mouth and easy-going ways.

Bad Teacher wants us to fall for Elizabeth’s irreverence and root for her to come out on top during various schemes. There’s just one problem; she’s horrible. And not horrible in a, “Man, I wish I could be that free and honest,” way, either. Elizabeth is plain nasty. We watch her lie, cheat, steal, connive, and grasp her way through the entire movie without regard for anyone else. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some laugh-out-loud moments in Bad Teacher, and it’s not a bad movie, it just isn’t any fun.

The filmmakers don’t seem to understand that if you’re going to give us a protagonist who’s a morally bankrupt bitch, she had damn better have a challenge ahead of her with regards to getting what she wants. I think the joy in a film like this for a normal movie-goer is to watch the alpha bitch struggle, fail, succeed a tiny bit and then struggle and fail some more. We don’t want people like Elizabeth to get what they’re after in movies, since they frequently seem to do just that in real life.

We want them to learn that being evil doesn’t always pay, at least a little. The true letdown of Bad Teacher is that Elizabeth has no serious opponents and gets her way every time. It is, for instance, too easy for her to drink booze, start a movie for her students and then take a nap in every class. She also makes quick work of stealing money from a student-run car wash, blackmailing a state official and discrediting a good teacher who’s on to her wicked ways.

One potential saving grace for Bad Teacher is Elizabeth’s relationship with Russell. He’s the one person who can match her raunch and still have the possibility of reining her in a bit. We can see Elizabeth soften the teensiest bit around him and know that she’d likely be a better person for letting him in. Unfortunately, dollar signs cloud Elizabeth’s vision for most of the movie, and Russell doesn’t have a real shot until the very end.

Diaz was the perfect person to play Elizabeth. Who better, after all, than an aging beauty who’s lost some of her spark to play an aging beauty who realizes she’s losing some of her spark? As Russell, Segel shows once again why he should be a go-to comedic everyman. I think Bad Teacher would have been infinitely more enjoyable had it focused on his good teacher with a bad boy underneath.│Adrienne Jones

 

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