A lot of teacher's dirty looks

Some of us, if we're lucky, had that special teacher back in the day - a mentor who took the extra time to encourage, elucidate, inspire.

Elizabeth Halsey, the middle-school instructress played by Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, is just such a dedicated educator - if your goals in life are to down a lot of booze, smoke a lot of weed, and marry into money.

A raunchy comedy that's funnier to think about than to watch (yes, the best stuff is in the trailer), Bad Teacher does boast some pricelessly derisive turns from Diaz, who swings her hips through John Adams Middle School dressed to kill, rolling her eyes at her fellow faculty members, and keeping her distance from the pimply brats and awkward tweens crowding the corridors.

First day of class? She pulls the TV monitor up and puts on Stand and Deliver, aghast that not one of her pip-squeaks is familiar with the Edward James Olmos inspirational classic. Next up on the queue: Dangerous Minds.

Directed by Jake Kasdan, from a screenplay credited to Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (a writer/producer team from The Office), Bad Teacher is a promising concept in need of more promising material. The jokes are, for the most part, default-mode dirty - not so much outrageous as just inevitable. Breast enhancement gags? Got 'em. Lesbian one-liners? Check. Some graphic descriptions of condom use? Afraid so.

When her plans to nab a sugar daddy are foiled by her target's rightly suspicious mother, Diaz's Halsey finds herself back at John Adams for a second year. Things couldn't be more depressing, until she bumps into a new colleague: a bow-tied and bespectacled Scott Delacorte, who teaches because he loves to, and just happens to be the heir to a watch fortune. Justin Timberlake - who was once, according to my sources at US Weekly, in a relationship with Ms. Diaz - essays the role of this impossibly earnest Mr. Nice with a game comedic face. Here, too, however, the writing isn't up to the performance. Even Timberlake seems worn down after a while.

As Halsey stalks her prey - and plots how to raise $10,000 for the aforementioned breast implants, a plot that involves such honorable enterprises as embezzlement and fixing the scores on a statewide student exam - her nemesis, and rival for Delacorte's affection, tries to convince anyone who will listen that Halsey is a deadbeat, a golddigger, a cheat.

Lucy Punch, engagingly kooky (and kinky) in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Dinner for Schmucks, is Amy Squirrel, the goody-two-shoes who goes toe to toe with Diaz. And then there's lunky Jason Segel, as the Average Joe gym teacher who can't seem to get Halsey interested in him - but isn't about to give up.

And did anyone say redemption? This is, after all, Hollywood, and in Bad Teacher, of course, even the title character turns out to be good.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/


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).