Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Bad Teacher

The first question you should probably ask yourself is whether or not the premise of Bad Teacher is something you can even accept. If you’re the type of person to be easily offended by the idea of a teacher abusing the education system and her students – or the type to get stuck on the question of how a person with few scruples and no morals gets hired as a middle school teacher in the first place, then this film will be impossible for you to enjoy.

However, if these aforementioned quandaries don’t bother you a bit, then Bad Teacher will likely deliver the kind of laughs you’re expecting – and even a few you aren’t. Does that make this film a comedy classic? Hardly.

The “story” revolves around Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a pretty little man-eater who claws her way out of the drudgery of teaching by snagging a wealthy fiancée. As you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan (and I stress the word “plan”) and Elizabeth finds herself right back in teaching hell at John Adams Middle School (J.A.M.S.). Needless to say, she doesn’t react favorably to having her dreams of the good life dashed.

Enter Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), the heir to a watchmaker fortune, who just so happens to have a passion for substitute teaching (go figure). In Scott, Elizabeth sees her next meal ticket to a life of luxury, only there’s one issue: Scott seems to favor women with a certain bust size that Liz can’t match. Plastic surgery to the rescue.

Of course boob-jobs are pricey, so Elizabeth focuses her efforts on using her position as a teacher to scheme up money any way she can. But the clock is ticking: a rival teacher – the psychotically perky Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) – is closing in on snagging Scott for herself, as well as the fat annual bonus awarded to the teacher whose students score highest on state exams. However, Liz isn’t the type of girl to back down from a challenge. By hook, a lot of crook, and maybe even some actual teaching, she is determined to get her money, her boobs, and subsequently, her man.

This sort of “quest” structure allows Bad Teacher to do the only thing it does well: treat viewers to a collection of segments in which the cast is able to get zany and over-the-top in their delivery of the funny. Each of the characters is seriously strange, and the movie has a lot more “WTF?” type laughs than “LMAO!” type laughs. The best example of this is Lucy Punch as Amy Squirrel; Punch has an undeniable talent for playing weird, and her character easily steals the show.

Diaz and Punch in 'Bad Teacher'

Supporting actors like The Office star Phyllis Smith and John Michael Higgins (The Break-Up) make the other administrators at J.A.M.S. just as strangely kooky to watch. The exception is Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who plays a gym teacher/love interest with his trademark likable average Joe persona. Segel does a particularly good job of adding some subtle, leveling wit to all the wacky proceedings around him.

As the headliners, Diaz and Timberlake do pretty fair to good jobs in their roles. Diaz gets to play naughty throughout the film, but still manages to work some charms to make Elizabeth a likeable (enough) protagonist. Although, if your brain cells happen to flicker while watching her, Elizabeth can be a frustrating question mark of a character. The girl is painted as being cunning, clever, fearless, shameless, lazy, vapid, sharp, immoral, unethical, tough-loving, vain and insecure all at once. How Liz became a teacher, or why she doesn’t use a better profession as the launch pad for her money schemes are questions best avoided. Do such contradictions in character matter in a movie like this? You decide.  Ironically enough, despite all the vulgarity and insanity, this is probably one of the least annoying roles that Diaz has played in years.

Timberlake does a good job sending up his own celebrity image; Scott Delacorte is like an impersonation of Justin Timberlake, done by someone who thinks Justin Timberlake is a total tool. Scenes where Delacorte busts an awkward move on the dance floor, or tries to serenade a young lady with a terrible folk-pop ballad are especially winking and funny. A whacked-out “love scene” between Diaz and Timberlake (a former offscreen couple) is almost too meta for comfort.

Bad Teacher was written by The Office scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who were also responsible for the reprehensible film, Year One. Like that botched experiment, Bad Teacher uses a loose, open premise (a simplistic mission, quest or journey) to create space for some episodic comedy. The movie plays like a series of skits or segments rather than a single unwinding narrative, but there is enough connective tissue to make it somewhat cohesive.

Diaz, Segel and Timberlake in 'Bad Teacher'

The characters (while in a lot of ways static and one-note) still manage to go through some kind of development over the course of the school year, with Liz in particular ending up in a very different place than where we initially find her. Again, whether or not this transition is believable is something I’ll let you decide. I did expect this movie (given its title) to be a bit more hardcore with its raunch and vulgarity, but the tone was more weird and awkward than shocking or offensive.

The direction by Jake Kasdan (Freaks and Geeks, Orange County) is crisp and clean, and the visuals are surprisingly rich and vivid for a movie like this; the production values were a lot higher than I expected. The pace never dragged too much, and whenever one segment of Elizabeth’s scheming was done, another segment was speedily introduced in order to keep us laughing – and keep us from thinking too hard about the utter absurdity of what we are watching.

If a few good laughs are all you’re after, this movie will deliver what you expect it to, and may even throw in the bonus of a few surprise giggles. If you’re one of those viewers who prefers your comedy to be smart, balanced by heart, or even just logical, you’ll probably want to pass on this one in theaters.

Help to make up your mind by watching the trailer for Bad Teacher below:

Bad Teacher is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)