DIAZ FLUNKS IN “BAD TEACHER”

Back in 2003 the incredibly talented Billy Bob Thornton made an offbeat comedy titled “Bad Santa,” in which he played an alcoholic who earned money on the side by being a department store Santa. The movie was raunchy and profane and very funny because of the F bomb-laced conversations Santa had with the little children who climbed onto his lap.

Now Cameron Diaz is the star of a new comedy titled “Bad Teacher,” in which she plays a pot-smoking, Jim Beam-swilling schoolteacher who wants to beg, borrow, and steal enough money for breast-enhancement surgery so that she can catch a man. The movie is raunchy and profane and not very funny mainly because Diaz is not even in the same stratosphere as Thornton when it comes to acting talent and comic timing. Therefore we can conclude that whereas Thornton’s “Bad Santa” was a good comedy, Diaz’s “Bad Teacher” is aptly titled because it’s pretty bad.

As the film opens, Elizabeth Halsey’s (Diaz) teaching colleagues at John Adams Middle School are bidding her farewell at the end of the year because she is going to be married. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the wealthy groom-to-be tells her to take a hike because his mother can’t stand Elizabeth. Thus, because Elizabeth no longer will have someone to support her, she must return for another year of teaching, and she copes with this by drinking, smoking weed, and showing movies to her students every day. When the principal questions her about what goes on her classroom, she unflappably replies, “I think that in a lot of ways movies are the new books.”

In addition to hating her job, Elizabeth is attempting to deal with being manless. Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), the nerdy gym teacher asks her out, but she turns him down because she isn’t the least bit attracted to him, but when Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), the new sub shows up, Elizabeth makes a move on him. Sadly, he dashes her high hopes by telling her he has just come out of a relationship and isn’t ready for another one. Then he shows her a picture of his former girlfriend, who has enormous breasts. Now Elizabeth is on a mission to raise enough money (almost $10,000) to have breast enhancement surgery.

Elizabeth will stop at nothing to reach her goal, including flaunting her body at the seventh-grade car wash. But when she finds out that there’s a generous year-end bonus for the teacher whose students make the highest score on a certain test, she does a sudden about face and begins trying to teach her students something. However, veteran teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is onto her, and the war between the two of them begins.

One of the interesting things about this film is that although Diaz is supposed to be the star, she is badly upstaged by Punch, who is wonderful as the brown-nosing Squirrel whose insufferably obnoxious obsequiousness is much more amusing than anything Diaz’s character says or does. And Lynn Davies, who plays Phyllis Smith, also outshines Diaz. Phyllis is a stereotypical old maid schoolteacher with a voice that’s a cross between those sported by Julia Child and Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker.

In addition to the fact that Diaz is not much of an actress, I find her very difficult to look at, and if it weren’t for the magic of makeup, she would be downright frightening. In fact, she would be a natural for one of the zombies in “The Walking Dead” TV series. If you doubt what I’m saying here’s a picture of her sans makeup. Judge for yourself. This definitely is not a face that could launch a thousand ships.

I also thought that Elizabeth was neither interesting nor sympathetic as a character. In the film’s production notes, Diaz offered the following analysis of Elizabeth.

“She isn’t aggressively mean – she just thinks she’s above it all. She has no passion for teaching, no desire for the kids to learn anything. Even when she finds out she can get a big payday if the kids do well on the state test, it doesn’t make her want to be a better teacher; she just wants the scores. I love that she never changes. She’s driven to get money so that she can get a new pair of boobs. She’s looking for a guy who is rich enough to take her away so she never has to work again, and she’s convinced that if she gets those D-cups they’ll be her ticket out.”

Diaz also explained what kind of a character she wanted Elizabeth to be in the film.

“I wanted her to be the sort of girl who cares about the way she looks more than anything. She used to have a rich boyfriend, and even now, she spends her money on all the wrong things. You don’t show up for school as a teacher wearing Christian Louboutin heels! But for Elizabeth, it’s all about the heels. She wants to be seen – she believes she’s above her job and everyone there, and with the heels, she’s literally above everyone else.”

Perhaps the film’s most serious shortcoming, however, is that it does not contain enough scenes of Elizabeth’s interacting with the students. Instead we must suffer through a number of sequences watching the students viewing movies while Elizabeth sleeps at her desk or nips from a bottle of Jim Beam. The best part of “Bad Santa” was the repartee with the children, and that should have been the case here.

All right then, it is now time to hand out the final grades for “Bad Teacher.” Acting: Diaz—C; Punch—A; Davies—A. Storyline: C. Humor: C-. (There were very few funny lines and even fewer funny scenes.) Using the actors who played the school children to full advantage: F. Overall entertainment value: D.

I will give “Bad Teacher” a final score of five only because of he performances of Punch and Davies. But as a funny comedy, this film is a complete failure.

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