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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bad Teacher (Release Date: 6-24-2011)

        There was a time, a time that now seems long, long ago, when Rated-R comedies were seen by studio heads as a risky endeavor. To be sure, they've been around and at least somewhat popular ever since the MPAA rating system was invented (Stripes, Porky's, The Jerk, and Beverly Hills Cop, just to name a few), but much of the 90's and early 2000's saw the vast majority of their high-grossing laughers land a PG-13 tag. Pin-pointing the origin of the genre's resurgence might prove difficult, but I for One always look back on Summer 2005, when Wedding Crashers and 40-Year-Old Virgin duked it out for comedy gold with all of America laughing and gasping along. Since then, the, 'Apatow Brand,' ballooned up into a prominent enterprise, One that has been losing steam by the day since, we'll say, 2008. And while many a movie with the infamous R-Rating collected boatloads during that period, it was The Hangover's head-spinning 277 Million Dollar domestic gross (against a production budget of 35 Mil) that proved undeniably that Seventeen-and-over features would have no trouble generating big, big cash if done right. Seriously, can you remember the last PG-13 comedy that didn't star Adam Sandler? I know I can't. The shockers have taken over the multiplex, each new film judged on its ability to surprise and take the genre to its natural extreme.

        If Bad Teacher strikes you as yet another big-screen raunch-fest, you're not far off. The film is the Third such offering of the Summer (Bridesmaids, and The Hangover Part II), with Three more (Horrible Bosses, Friends with Benefits, and The Change-Up) along the way. This One stars Cameron Diaz as the titular educator, Elizabeth Halsey, who wants nothing more than absolutely everything. Hard-boozing and entirely insensitive, Elizabeth routinely shows up to work with a throbbing hangover that she sleeps through as her students watch whatever movie she decides to play for them. She has Two missions in life: Earn enough money for a sizable pair of fake breasts, and use them to snag a man who will pay for her everything. Enter Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), a new faculty member with twinkling eyes and an even shinier car. He soon catches the eye of another instructor, the eager, job-loving, and unbearably over-earnest Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Soon, Halsey and Squirrel are both in love and at war, and needless to say, all is fair.

        Diaz is a perfect fit for the role, a certain superficiality that she has always exuded finally put to perfect use. Not unlike Matthew Mcconaughey in this year's The Lincoln Lawyer, One can almost feel Diaz shake the cobwebs off from her earlier, brighter comedy career. Her commitment the the complete and utter awfulness of her character is never in doubt, even when the same can't be said of writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. Their screenplay isn't really tame by anyone's standards: There are moments of the battle between Diaz and Punch that manage to drop my jaw, but the movie as a whole seems uncertain as to how far it wants to run with such a deplorable protagonist. Perhaps that's why Jason Segel is here, playing a charming every-man of a gym teacher, a part that would have been a pure eye-roller were it not for Segel's impeccable line deliveries.

        Bad Teacher is an actor's movie through and through, a variety of small roles being gamely performed by unfamiliar actors, Punch, school principle John Michael Higgins, and Diaz buddy/Mrs. Vance Refrigeration Phyllis Smith having an absolute blast with their parts. Only Timberlake really struggles, suffering from the misfortune of portraying a character that Stupnitsky and Eisenberg don't seem sure what to do with. It's the movie's crafters that come close to sinking the ship, a PG-13 versus R tug-of-war rearing its ugly head far to often in the shaky and uncertain hands of Director Jake Kasdan. Daiz frequently looks like an eager dog, throwing all of her weight forward against Kasdan's unforgiving leash. If she had it her way, my guess is that Bad Teacher would have been the gloriously guilty and sordid pleasure that it often hints at becoming. As is, it's a funny movie, navigating its way into hilarious territory not too infrequently, propped up a stellar cast who all seem like they're having a hell of a time. My guess is you will too.

Grade: B 

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