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Movie Review

Bad Teacher

‘Bad Teacher’ offers lesson about movie’s makers

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / June 24, 2011

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“Bad Teacher’’ is supposed to be Cameron Diaz playing the world’s most pathetic middle-school teacher. She’s a stoner who is in the classroom because she lacks the ambition to do anything else. This movie is what you do when you have never been to school or don’t like education. Or movies, comedies, women, breasts, sex, or dodgeball. In a movie like this, in which Diaz purports to wash cars wearing short-shorts and mile-high espadrilles yet only she seems to get wet, you learn more about the moviemakers than anyone in the movie: They have a very sad erotic life.

The fiance of Diaz’s character, Elizabeth, dumps her after her gold-digging can no longer be ignored. The movie just sends her into a spiral of caustic depression that’s never funny enough. Class with her consists of playing DVDs of goodish Hollywood movies like “Stand and Deliver,’’ “Lean on Me,’’ and “Dangerous Minds,’’ movies about brown kids fighting to subsist in bad situations, while she texts or drinks or sleeps. “Bad Teacher’’ assumes that a mocking awareness of those movies permits this one to deploy jokey casual racism. We’re made to understand that one terrible but terribly dedicated teacher’s new job at someplace called Malcolm X High School is a punishment. Presumably her time there will make her the subject of a much better film.

Back in this movie, Elizabeth turns man-hungry and sets her appetite on the bank account of new teacher (Justin Timberlake), who’s got his eye on the prudent dingbat (Lucy Punch) who, from across the hall, has been tallying Elizabeth’s ethical lapses. Meanwhile, the blocky P.E. teacher (Jason Segel) tells Elizabeth that she needs to work so desperately to raise the money for the breast augmentation the filmmakers want her to have. News of a $5,700 bonus actually inspires her to teach. To be fair, if these nonmasculine men are the only options, I might go to work depressed, too.

Diaz has no character to play. She just makes her way through the backhandedly hateful fantasies about women one acquires mostly from an adolescence spent listening to Eazy E while watching Whitesnake videos. To which one can say only that Tawny Kitaen was a woman who knew how to wash a car.

You don’t want to think, what would Preston Sturges or Alexander Payne do with this material? But there is a seed of satirical cynicism in this movie that a smart, clear mind could have finessed. Jake Kasdan is not that director. He doesn’t appear to know what to do. He just sprays the screen with shots of swollen pants, pot fumes, soiled pants, fake breasts, and Diaz’s rear. Ah, Diaz’s rear. It’s how movies let us know women didn’t make them. She’s the butt of too many jokes. Over the years, rooting for Diaz has become like rooting for, say, the Chicago Cubs, a lost cause that’s turned into a habit. But eventually, in Diaz’s case, a diehard has to confront the reality that her worst enemy is herself. She might be incapable of staying aligned with directors who want the best for her and surrounds herself instead with guys who like to play with Barbie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

'Bad Teacher'
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BAD TEACHER

Cameron Diaz as the world’s most pathetic teacher in a hateful comedy that suggests she is determined to have the world’s most pathetic career. Bad movie. (92 min., R)

(Wesley Morris)

BAD TEACHER

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Written by: Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, and Lucy Punch

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: R (plenty of sexual content, nudity, language, and drug use)

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