‘Bad Teacher’ doesn’t quite make the grade

With the topic of education (lack of funding, mandated exams, charter schools, etc.) frequently making nationwide headlines, Bad Teacher seems like just the kind of movie needed to take some hot-button issues and turn them into laughs.

Bad Teacher does a bit of this, but not nearly enough. The story focuses on Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz), a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking middle-school teacher.

A teacher that shows a movie on the first day of school? No, it’s not a dream. That’s Elizabeth’s hands-off teaching style, which requires her class to spend valuable lesson time watching inspirational teacher-movie classics like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me and Dangerous Minds.

We meet Elizabeth on what she thinks is her last of day teaching forever. But when her meal ticket suddenly drops her like a bad habit, she’s forced to return to teaching at the John Adams Middle School (affectionately known as JAMS to the more enthusiastic teachers). Her main motivation is to earn enough money for breast implants so she can land a sugar daddy and be set for life.

Her foe is a teacher named Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Miss Squirrel is a do-gooder who makes it her mission to out Miss Halsey’s transgressions.

Most of the movie focuses on Elizabeth’s schemes to raise the ten grand she needs, and her attempts to sweet talk fellow teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), heir to a wristwatch fortune. Gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) has a crush on Elizabeth and constantly pursues her even though she constantly rebuffs him.

Cameron Diaz has never been one of my favorite actresses and doesn’t do anything to sway me in Bad Teacher. The one thing Diaz definitely has going for her is she looks the part and certainly is believable as a gold-digging teacher who will do anything to get what she wants, including lie, cheat and steal. I think I prefer her in roles where she gets to be more goofy rather than naughty.

Timberlake is a bit boring as the straight-laced teacher, but he does get to let loose in one memorable scene. Segel’s character also isn’t that interesting, though he has a knack for accepting rejection without batting an eye.

Funny supporting characters include John Michael Higgins as the principal with a dolphin fetish and Phyllis Smith (you may know her as Phyllis from The Office) as Elizabeth’s awkward fellow teacher.

Ultimately, Bad Teacher is an example of the idea being better than the execution. Director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The TV Set) keeps the laughs coming at a pretty steady pace in the quick, 90-minute flick. Still, with a little more focus on the classroom and less on the sugar daddy and breast implants, Bad Teacher might have lived up to its potential of being a dark comedy.

In the end, Bad Teacher falls quite a bit short of a perfect score. It has some moments of hilarity, but its uneven tone keeps Bad Teacher off the honor roll. ••

Movie Grade: B-