The statuesque blonde became the genre’s poster girl after sporting that curious hair gel in “There’s Something About Mary.”
In “Bad Teacher,” Diaz is in full control of the R-rated hijinks. And boy, do those naughty bits look good on her. The surrounding film isn’t such a cozy fit. For every inspired supporting player or plot turn there’s another that feels air-lifted in from an inferior film.
So long as Diaz is talking dirty – and loving it – “Bad Teacher” gets a shiny new apple.
Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a newly dumped school teacher desperate to catch a rich man’s eye. She think she’s in luck when she meets Scott (Justin Timberlake), an independently wealthy teacher at her school. But Scott lingers longer around Amy (Lucy Punch), a goody two shoes who hammers away at her students with cutesy lesson plans.
Elizabeth digs her high heels in for a fight. She starts saving up money for breast augmentation surgery to stack the … odds in her favor. But can she win Scott’s heart and wallet? Or will Russell (Jason Segel), the perfectly ordinary gym teacher, show her the error of her gold-digging ways? That “Bad Teacher” isn’t terribly interested in answering these question hints at its ramshackle underpinnings.
Co-screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg of “Year One” infamy do give Diaz some withering put downs, and she knocks every one out of the school yard.
“I really love helping bums,” she says while attempting to sound like a decent human being.
She puts even less energy into her lesson plans. Her idea of teaching is playing “Stand and Deliver” while she nurses her hangover du jour.
So, how do you make a conniving, pot-smoking shrew into someone worth caring about?
“Bad Teacher” doesn’t even bother. Diaz creates her own zany brand of good will by refusing to play by the rules. Yes, she’s a nightmare. But she’s not a phony, and her candor should scores some points with audiences.
Timberlake, so good, so often on “Saturday Night Live,” acts like he’s trapped in a series of five-minute “SNL” skits. He’s trying too hard, and his character never comes alive, let alone breathes. Segel is the polar opposite, a performer who looks like he made up every one of his lines on the spot and can’t stop grinning over his own wit.
Thomas Lennon of “Reno 911!” fame, cast as the man who holds to the answer key to a major test, does what he always does here. He makes everyone around him look better.
No matter how enticing Diaz looks in a series of slinky, sexy outfits, “Bad Teacher” stumbles in the final reel. The story gets entangled with a cheating scandal, and it’s clear Stupnitsky and Eisenberg have thrown up their hands at delivering a credible coda.
“Bad Teacher” doesn’t have the fire in its belly that previous black comedies like “Bad Santa” and “Observe and Report” share. But when Diaz is being naughty you won’t even care.