There are certainly worse movies than Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher. For that matter. Kasdan has made worse movies. That is, alas, a hell of a long way from calling it good. Bad Teacher joins the depressingly long list of movies that are simply hard to get worked up about one way or the other. That deadly phrase, “I didn’t mind sitting through it,” is mostly what comes to mind. For a movie that wants to be outrageous, that wouldn’t seem to be the desired response. And considering I heard little laughter and saw zero outraged walkouts at the show I attended, I have a feeling my ennui may not be isolated.
What we have here is a weak-tea attempt at shock. Oh, the film pushes all the right buttons to earn its R rating—and probably enough more to justify the inevitable “unrated edition” on DVD—but so what? Does Bad Teacher up the ante in any meaningful—or even meaningless—way? No. Compared to transgressive movies like Super and Hobo with a Shotgun, this is kindergarten stuff. There isn’t a single moment in it where you’re apt to think, “Oh, they won’t dare to go there,” because you know full well they aren’t going to. That’s the worst of it—it’s so terribly predictable.
The story concerns lazy, drunken, stoned, foul-mouthed Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), who is only teaching—if that it can be called—until she can marry her filthy-rich boyfriend. Since the plot requires it, he dumps her on the last day of school, so she finds herself forced to go back for another year of non-teaching teaching while she tries to find the next sucker. The next potential victim seems to her to be the apparently perpetual substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who, it turns out, is filthy rich. That he’s also terminally vapid seems to escape her notice. It does not escape the attention of good-naturedly sarcastic gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), who is stuck on Elizabeth—faults and all. Anyone who doesn’t know how this is going to end up hasn’t been to the movies since the introduction of the talkies.
The film errs badly in making Elizabeth’s nauseatingly chipper nemesis Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and Timberlake’s Scott so transparently shallow and unlikable that there’s never much of anything at stake. Nothing against Punch or Timberlake—especially Timberlake, who engages in what will almost certainly win the award for the year’s most embarassing sex scene. They try hard and are certainly game, but the characters they’re given don’t even qualify as two-dimensional.
The bulk of the story concerns Elizabeth’s faux-zany efforts to raise the money for a boob job. This ranges from provocatively performing at the student carwash and pocketing a chunk of the proceeds to trying to win a $5,700 teacher-of-the-year award. The latter manages to drag in the old gag about stealing test answers, which I think originated somewhere around 1927 and really hasn’t changed all that much—even with some added raunch value. That all this manages to be largely painless is good news for those of us who have to sit through it, but hardly indicates anyone else should bother. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.