If nothing else, Bad Teacher will no doubt go down in history as the first movie to exploit the full comic thrust of dry humping. Yet for all the deviance, rebellion, and devil-may-care attitude on display in this foul-mouthed comedy, screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg's refusal to break from convention ultimately prevents the film from transcending the boundaries of traditional comedy. And though their predictable screenplay may not break any new ground cinematically, the talented ensemble cast still elevates the material enough to earn Bad Teacher a passing grade.
Cynical teacher Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) hates her job. She can't wait for the day that she finds a man who makes enough cash to let her walk away from her life of middle-school misery, and when her fiancé cancels their wedding plans, her frantic search only intensifies. Just when it starts to look like Elizabeth will have to muscle her way through another semester of skull-crushing hangovers, however, handsome substitute Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) shows up at school sporting a fancy wristwatch and the promise of a care-free future. But in order to earn her meal ticket, Elizabeth will have to out-cute perky fellow teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). And it won't be easy, because Scott is crushing on Amy hard. Now, if Elizabeth can just motivate her students to study so that she can win a state contest to earn enough cash for some new breast implants, perhaps she can finally find a means of diverting Scott's gaze. Meanwhile, much to Elizabeth's chagrin, wisecracking, self-effacing gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) refuses to admit defeat despite being turned down for a date by his gold-digging colleague time and again.
No, Bad Teacher isn't a belated sequel to Terry Zwigoff's profane 2003 comedy Bad Santa, though in many respects it feels as if the screenplay may have been directly modeled on its gleefully rude predecessor. Ostensibly a one-note gag stretched out to feature length, Jake Kasdan's feature follow-up to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story supplements the obvious centerpiece schtick (a dysfunctional adult leading a classroom full of innocent students) with enough running jokes, sight gags, and vulgar wordplay to smooth over some of the screenplay's rough edges. A veteran of the tragically short-lived comedy-drama sitcom Freaks and Geeks (which also featured Bad Teacher star Segel in a major role), Kasdan has a genuine talent for milking the comic potential from the mundane realities of day-to-day school life. And while Stupnitsky and Eisenberg can be hit (The Office) or miss (Year One) as a writing duo, here they manage to score laughs more often than not thanks to their strong penchant for playing on workplace stereotypes. The Office co-star Phyllis Smith scores big laughs as Elizabeth's insecure, easily influenced fellow teacher Lynn (who is sorely missed when the plot takes a detour for a school field trip); John Michael Higgins embodies the typical middle-school principal, oddball quirks and all; and even Freaks and Geeks veteran Dave Allen gets a few memorable beats as the mellow teacher with an endearingly lame sense of humor.
The majority of a comedy's success always falls on the main players, though, and thankfully Diaz, Timberlake, Segel, and Punch are all up to the task. With memorable roles in Hot Fuzz and Dinner for Schmucks, Punch, in particular, has been on something of a winning streak that she maintains here by playing up Miss Squirrel's twitchy insecurity to maximum comic effect. Timberlake, meanwhile, delivers a few of Bad Teacher's most riotously funny moments as he sings an original love song to Miss Squirrel and proves you can still get the most out of sex without removing a stitch of clothing. It could almost stand as a metaphor for the film itself: though Kasdan and company seem reluctant to go all the way, they still go far enough that at least half of us are likely to walk away satisfied.