An anti-hero in a movie can be provocative and entertaining, but if the alternatives to that character are equally lamentable the movie can get old very quickly. This is the lamentable world of Bad Teacher, a comedy where just about every character is awful.

At the start of the movie, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is about to retire from teaching, when her rich fiancee/meal ticket dumps her. Jump ahead a few months, and she's back to being the worst junior high teacher ever: showing movies and sleeping off hangovers during class, skipping mandatory staff meetings, and being rude and dismissive to her fellow teachers. (A friendship with shy, dumpy teacher Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) is never explained; I suspect it's there so Elizabeth has someone to talk to.)

Elizabeth sees a way out when the school gets a new sub: Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) is an idealistic, overly sweet, g-rated teacher who just happens to have come from a wealthy family. Elizabeth pegs him as her future meal ticket -- and her goal is to save up enough for breast implants (to look like his ex) while convincing him that she's as devoted to students as he is. Meanwhile goody-two-shoes teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is also pursuing Scott; and Elizabeth's behavior is even scarier when she wants her students to ace a standardized test -- so she can get the bonus money to use for her boob job. And gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) keeps trading quips with and making passes at Elizabeth, despite her dismissing him as just a gym teacher.

Bad Teacher makes two critical mistakes. The first is mistaking bad behavior for inherently funny. Short of killing or sleeping with a student, Elizabeth does virtually every possible thing wrong -- drinking in class, smoking marijuana in her car in the school parking lot, cursing at kids, pelting underachievers with dodgeballs, stealing, lying, cheating, showing up at a student car wash and writhing around like she was in a heavy metal music video -- yet there are few jokes or humorous situations surrounding the bad behavior. Cameron Diaz can do comedy well -- remember There's Something About Mary, anyone? -- but here all she has is bad character traits piled on more bad traits.

The second critical mistake is that the alternative to Elizabeth's character seems just as bad. Just about every other character is so perky and clean-cut and enthusiastic that you just want to punch them. It's a contrast to Elizabeth's horrible behavior, but it's equally unlikeable to the audience. Only Jason Segel shows that a person doesn't have to be horrible in either direction; but he's in the film so briefly, his character makes almost no impact.

Bad Teacher manages to give us one of cinema's worst teachers, but it doesn't give the laughs that should come with such a character.

Overall grade: D

Reviewed by James Lynch

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