Sony // 2011 // 97 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 26th, 2011
She doesn't give an "F."
Cameron Diaz must have had a lot of fun slipping into the role of a foulmouthed, relentless high school teacher for Jake Kasdan's Bad Teacher, but truth be told, her efforts haven't completely paid off. Financially, the $20 million comedy certainly scored high after pulling in a solid $100 million at the domestic box office, but in terms of quality, the movie never really quite lives up to its appealing premise. It's a shame, really, because Bad Teacher could've easily become one of the year's better films.
Cameron Diaz (In her Shoes) plays Elizabeth Halsey, an inappropriate, rude junior high teacher who has no choice but to hold on to her annoying job after getting dumped by her fiancé. An aggressive gold digger without a bright future, Elizabeth immediately embarks on a mission to find a new man, setting her sights on a new substitute named Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network).
Winning over Scott presents quite a challenge, though. Since Elizabeth believes it's easier to seduce a guy when you're equipped with large chest, she's doing whatever it takes to scrape together the money for a breast enlargement -- even if this means ripping off her students during school fundraisers or somehow cheating her way to the highest scores on a standardized test to nab a bonus, Elizabeth stops at nothing to reach her "inspiring" goal...
Before Bad Teacher hit theaters, lots of signs pointed to it potentially becoming one of those hilarious dark comedies to remember. The cast, which includes performances by Jason Segel and Lucy Punch, looked promising, the main concept behind the film provoked premature comparisons to Bad Santa, and the fact that the script was generated by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (The Office) quickly raised expectations among cinemagoers and critics. Then the movie opened, and a lot of these expectations were quickly crushed. I can't say Bad Teacher is terrible, but it simply doesn't have what it takes to leave a long-lasting impression. Kasdan's movie wants to be tough and shocking, but in the end, it just doesn't have the guts to go through with its intentions. In other words, it struggles to figure out where exactly it wants to go, and that poses a huge problem.
Although the two films share different plots and all, I find it helpful in my analysis of this film to draw the obvious comparisons to Terry Zwigoff's wildly entertaining Bad Santa, in which Billy Bob Thornton delivers a sensational performance as a foulmouthed shopping mall Santa robbing every penny he can rob. Thornton's character is a mean badass, but the movie makes it easy for spectators to connect with him because he doesn't pretend to be someone he can't be. He's a rude, miserable gangster who knows how to shock people, and he never refrains from holding back. That's one of the main reasons that movie works so well. The problem with Cameron Diaz's Elizabeth Halsey is that she pretends to be bad, yet never really seems to be able to fully go through with it.
Bad Teacher really struggles to make us like her, causing Elizabeth's character to come across as unconvincing and too soft. Sure, she is a bad teacher because all she does in class is show movies, but that doesn't make her in the least bit interesting to watch for 97 minutes. She smokes pot in the school parking lot at one point, but that's hardly enough to shock the audience. Diaz sure tries to portray a miserable human being in this role, but she never really gets it right, and the material she gets to work with here doesn't help. Going back to Billy Bob Thornton and Bad Santa, both his performance and the script created this spectacular harmony a film like Bad Teacher can only dream of.
As much as I have to admit that Kasdan's comedy is not a total bore, Elizabeth's journey from bad teacher looking for a new sugar daddy to good teacher getting what she wants lacks surprises and energy. In the classroom, she merely sleeps on her desk, which I can't qualify as entertaining. Outside of class, she feuds with Lucy Punch's Amy Squirrel, a persistent teacher who's got Elizabeth all figured out and goes above and beyond to expose her dark secrets. Punch's character is way too silly to be taken seriously, but at least she brings along the eccentric behavior and determination in her performance to stand out in comparison to her co-stars. Alas, event this short-lived war between the two never really creates opportunities for the film to leave its mark.
In Bad Teacher, some jokes work, even as others fail. Big laughs are scarce, and bright smiles come in limited quantities. The movie benefits from a few individual scenes that work really well (i.e., a car wash scene during which Diaz shows off her assets), but that's pretty much it. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg's script wanders around aimlessly for a while, merely following Elizabeth on her quest to raise the money for her boob operation. It just isn't as hilarious as it may look and sound on paper. The relationships between the main characters in the film also never really take off. Elizabeth's attempts to connect with Scott (played by an eccentric Justin Timberlake) feel implausible and odd, and her occasional conversations and potential romance with gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel, I Love You, Man) are never developed enough. Diaz shares some cute moments with co-worker Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith, The Office), but that's all there is to it.
Anyway, moving on to the technical specifications of Bad Teacher (Blu-ray), I am glad to announce things start to look a little brighter. The disc comes equipped with an impressive 1.85:1 non-anamorphic 1080p transfer boasting a consistently sharp, clean image with strong colors and just the right saturation and clarity. The film sounds great as well, thanks to a superb DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio track. The edition of the film I have been talking about in this review is the unrated version, which includes five minutes of extra footage not seen in theaters. That said, this Blu-ray edition also includes the theatrical version of the film, as well as the standard-definition versions on a separate disc.
In terms of special features, this edition includes a gag reel, outtakes, deleted scenes, and an interactive character description feature that lets you pull up some of the cast members' memorable moments in the film. Also included are five behind-the-scenes featurettes, most of which are simply too short to raise any particular interest. Although this bonus section scores high in quantity, you won't find anything particularly informative to get excited about.
Bad Teacher certainly is watchable, but the simplicity of the script and the weaknesses of the underdeveloped characters never let it flourish. Cameron Diaz is a fine actress for sure, but throughout this movie, I often felt she may have been miscast. Either way, this one only deserves a C-, and I feel I'm still being pretty generous. Case closed.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Version
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* DVD Copy
* Official Site