Not bad at all

Cameron Diaz throws herself into Bad Teacher role in fun summer comedy

Diaz has balls.

Diaz has balls.

Bad Teacher
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

If nothing else, Cameron Diaz and the writers of Bad Teacher have created one of the more interesting characters in recent comedy memory. Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) is a PTA nightmare. With all sorts of bad habits rolled up in her short, short skirt and stilettos, she is set loose to mold the impressionable minds at a sleepy middle school. I know if I had had her as a teacher, puberty would have been a whole lot more interesting.

For Halsey, teaching isn’t a profession, it’s a holding pattern until Daddy Warbucks shows up and makes the sun come up for her. That ain’t happening fast enough, so she sets her sights on a moneyed substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake) while the schlumpy gym coach (Jason Segel) sighs in the background. Unfortunately for her scheme, a matrimonial cockblock pops up in the form of an overachieving rival, fellow teacher Miss Squirrel (Lucy Punch), and a slow-burn duel flares up as they whip out the claws and circle each other in the hallway.

Clearly Bad Teacher is playing in the same sandbox as Bad Santa (there’s no connection between the two, other than the obvious influence), but at the lower end of the R-rating. It’s a little shaggy in the structure, and some of the jokes fall flat, but more than a few deliver in unexpected ways. There are also some neat subtextual gags beneath the broader comedy. It’s by no means highbrow, but there are also enough random moments to set it apart from the typical Hollywood comedy template. There’s an oddball sex scene that doesn’t exactly work as comedy, but nicely illustrates an epiphany for the bad teacher. It’s an interesting choice, and is an indication that director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard) cares enough about his audience to not be satisfied playing to the lowest common denominator.

And while it’s Diaz’s show (she’s on fire here, with some deft work that grounds Halsey with a charm to make her otherwise near-sociopathic character palatable), the supporting cast members have been given plenty of room to work their character chops. With a lesser cast, this material might have failed dismally, but all in all they work well here as an ensemble.

The only thing keeping Bad Teacher from being a perfect summer comedy is that the pacing starts to go slack toward the end, making the movie seem a li’l bit longer than its 90-minute running time—not fatally, as it recovers in the final stretch (although that also includes the filmmakers punking the target demographic in the payoff).

But, hey, extra bonus points for not using Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” on the soundtrack, and going with Judas Priest’s “The Ripper” instead. Because … WTF?