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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel
DIRECTED BY
Jake Kasdan
SCREENPLAY
Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
92 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Columbia
DVD EXTRAS
Unrated Edition; Boner;
The Bachelor;
Extended Russell Rejection;
Way Behind The Scenes with Jason and Justin;
Raising More Than Funds

 "Bad Teacher" Review 
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If you had told me a week ago that I would end up preferring the Cameron Diaz/Justin Timberlake faux edgy comedy Bad Teacher over Pixar's latest film Cars 2, I'd have likely considered you utterly insane.

But, here we are.

Cars 2, while not a bad film, was an incredibly disappointing film as Pixar has, for the first time, appeared to have done not much more than a massive money grab with a dumbed down, convoluted and not particularly imaginative return to Radiator Springs. While the younger kiddoes while most definitely enjoy the film, Cars 2 is yet another misuse of 3-D technology and a film that doesn't come close to living up to Pixar's usual gold standard.

Bad Teacher, on the other hand, is exactly what you'd expect - an irreverent, funny, occasionally sweet and entertaining flick that plays exactly as you'd expect if you've seen the film's trailer with the possible exception of being less edgy than you might think and ending on a rather faux happy ending that is neither deserved nor particularly desired.

A longtime Pixar fan and never quite, at least not with any gusto, a fan of Cameron Diaz nor Justin Timberlake as an actor, it's rather surprising to report that, quite simply, by a modest margin Bad Teacher is the better film. That said, there's no question that Cars 2 will win the box-office this weekend. However, with Timberlake's popularity and the intrigue built out of his co-starring with ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz, Bad Teacher should enjoy decent box-office and may have some lasting power if positive word of mouth can pick up for the film.

Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a teacher. Well, she's not really a teacher in any true sense of the word. She works as a seventh-grade teacher, but given her inclinations towards alcohol, drugs and various other activities, she's the kind of teacher who's so out there that you likely wouldn't be surprised to find out she's related to Mary Kay Letourneau. After one year in the classroom, Halsey accomplishes her goal of landing a wealthy man until she's dumped and finds herself back at work alongside perpetually perky Miss Squirrel (Lucy Punch) and Lynn (Phyllis Smith), a fellow teacher and the film's obligatory frumpy yet good-hearted friend. She dismisses the rather relentless flirtations of the P.E. teacher, Russell (Jason Segel), because he's, well, a teacher. When the new substitute teacher shows up, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), Halsey discovers what she hopes will be her meal ticket out of teaching courtesy of his well-to-do parents and obvious inheritance.

Where director Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard) takes the film from here is on a cinematic journey that is far more timid than it ought to be yet consistently funny enough to please most moviegoing audiences and fans of both Diaz and Timberlake. Diaz fans will likely celebrate the fact that Diaz is allowed to basically play "balls to the walls" here, an unrepentant bad girl whose character is constantly dancing on that line of believability as to exactly what a teacher could really get away with before losing her job. On the flip side, Timberlake plays against type as a rather timid, bookish wallflower whose funniest scenes seem to be making fun of his reputation including a rather delightful little ditty he performers as part of a teacher band where there's no chance of sexy coming back any time soon.

Co-writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who also penned the critically panned and box-office bomb Year One and are currently working on Ghostbusters III, are much more successful with this film than with their first feature film. While character development seems to be mostly an afterthought here, Bad Teacher has enough comic set-ups that work and witty one-liners that it's fairly easy to forgive the lack of characters with which to connect.

It also helps that Bad Teacher has a solid ensemble cast, with stellar supporting turns by a delightful Lucy Punch leading the way. Punch is sort of an Amy Adams meets Enchanted on speed while watching Mister Rogers. Punch is so successful at creating a winning and appealing character that her fate, at least for this writer, feels like one of the film's few truly wrong notes, despite the fact that Miss Squirrel has more than a few issues of her own. Phyllis Smith, familiar to fans of The Office, is terrific as Lynn, though she's too under-utilized to fully appreciate how much she's bringing to the film. While Timberlake is really pegged as the male lead, it's arguable that Segel steals his thunder with a Segel performance that serves up his usual mix of puppy dog humility with low-key male bravado.

While Bad Teacher ends on a decidedly non-edgy note and far too often soften just as it's starting to cross the line, to the credit of Kasdan and his writers the film also refuses to give anyone the usual Hallmark greeting card ending that is so often the result in these films. As you watch the film's first 30 minutes, you'll undoubtedly find yourself predicting how it all ends - My guess is that you'll only be partially correct, because Kasdan keeps a streak of authenticity going on and, if you watch closely, really builds the scenes to support the way everything resolves.

Bad Teacher is top notch in terms of production, and features a stellar soundtrack of contemporary and classic rock including a rather kick-ass version of Iggy Pop's "Real Wild Child" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts over the closing credits. Most likely to be compared to Billy Bob Thornton's much edgier and darker Bad Santa, Bad Teacher actually plays a lot more like early Adam Sandler with its outlandish potty mouth scenarios, goofball hijinks, occasional sweetness and bad adult role models doing the right thing when it really counts.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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