'Bad': Funny, but uneven

The release of "Bad Teacher" appears to indicate that Hollywood's reflexes have never been faster.

Just a few weeks after the release of the raunchy, girls-gone-wild blockbuster "Bridesmaids" - still packing them in - we get Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digging, pot-smoking, foulmouthed, sexually voracious middle school educator.

"Teacher" opens with Elizabeth establishing her credentials as a girl who will do anything to snag a rich guy. She just misses one, then sets her sights on another - a new teacher (Justin Timberlake) who's heir to a watchmaking fortune.

She has a rival - a goody two-shoes social studies teacher played by Judy Punch - setting up the catfight that drives the plot (such as it is) for the next 90 minutes.

It's the least effective element in "Teacher," which gets more consistent laughs in the classroom, where the flagrantly uninterested Elizabeth bullies, insults and ignores her students.

Uninterested, that is, until she finds out she can earn extra money if her students perform well on standardized exams. At this point, she takes "teaching to the test" to Taliban-like extremes. This is actually pretty funny, and relevant, since it serves to both satirize and endorse the idea of merit pay.

The title draws comparisons to "Bad Santa," but the movies are different in style. "Santa" was a disciplined black comedy, consistent in its mood. "Teacher" is all over the map - some black comedy, some (overdue) spoofing of the inspirational teacher genre, and too much broad farce (from Punch and Timberlake). It's highly uneven, probably why it's been on the shelf for several months, released now to ride "Bridesmaids" coattails (if brides had coattails instead of trains).

What "Teacher" and "Santa" have in common is a well-deserved hard "R" rating - bad behavior, foul language, some out-there sex scenes. I didn't think Diaz could be humiliated more than she was in "Knight and Day," drugged and shipped as luggage, but I was wrong.

It's a shame, in a way, that "Teacher" is off-limits for younger teens. For all of its shock-comedy excess, "Bad Teacher" has one of the best scenes of a teacher giving realistic, useful advice to a student since "Freaks and Geeks," (also directed, in many episodes, by Jake Kasdan).

Another plus - Jason Segel's supporting performance as the gym teacher who sees in Elizabeth the potential for . . . let's call it redemption.

Bad Teacher

Directed by Jake Kasdan. With Cameron Diaz, Phyllis Smith, Eric Stonestreet, Lucy Punch, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon, Noah Munck, Thomas Lennon. Distributed by Sony Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use).