Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bad Teacher (2011)

What hath Will Ferrell wrought?

In what will forever be known as The Summer We Discovered Women Can Be Funny (because Hollywood never remembers that), it would seem like the proper comparison for Bad Teacher would be Bridesmaids, that pink-paletted monolith of hilarious women. But I'm not going to compare them for two very appropriate reasons: 1) Bad Teacher was already finished by the time Bridesmaids came out, so the latter's success had no influence on the former's existence and 2) I haven't yet seen Bridesmaids. The more appropriate comparison this film might actually be Anchorman.

Easy now, stay with me here.

Anchorman was the prototype for every Will Ferrell movie that's been made since then, or at least his big, mainstream comedies. Ferrell stars as a dolt in a professional situation who has a shallow goal and a complete disregard for those around him, usually populated by broad comic stereotypes. There's also usually a kitschy love story involved as well, which doesn't really matter, because the people want to see Ferrell's boorish behavior.


The same goes for Bad Teacher, only with the genders flipped. Cameron Diaz stars as Elizabeth, a gold-digging middle school teacher who's been dumped by her rich boyfriend. She decides to save up her money for breast implants, and proceeds to scheme for ways to get the money while serving as a lazy, couldn't-give-less-of-a-crap educator. However, there's a John Hughes-esque love triangle when Elizabeth falls for Scott (Justin Timberlake), the new hot-nerd teacher with a family fortune, while ignoring the advances of put-upon gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel, who seems to be the go-to guy for romantic sad-sacks). On top of all this is her rival, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who's goal is to have her fired.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, both of The Office fame, have crafted a script that doesn't so much bow to convention so much as nonchalantly toss it at us, like bored zookeepers making their rounds. It's a dull affair, and director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) doesn't do much to liven it up. Neither do the actors, most of which seem to be coasting through the film to their paychecks. I've never been of the persuasion that Diaz is a particularly good actress, and she doesn't convince me otherwise here. Segel gets a few bits here and there, but the real life of the film is Timberlake, who admirably sells a goofy, awkward charm that belongs in a better film.


Perhaps the film's worst quality, though, is that it's not funny nor entertaining. Sure, pretty much everyone gets to say one foul-mouthed line, and Elizabeth does go to extreme lengths to get what she wants, but it's all profanity for profanity's sake. The ultimately-sanitized ending is tonally off-putting, seemingly dropped in from another movie. All of this wouldn't be as bad, though, if the characters weren't so completely unlikable. We're never given a reason to care about any of them, so the film's forced scenes of lessons-learned and ultimate-comeuppance ring hollow.

There are worse films than Bad Teacher out there. But for a film who's tagline is "eat me," it's awfully toothless. C-

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