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    Movie Review: Bad Teacher a Surprising Overachiever

    Bad Teacher, Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz Sony Pictures

    Review in a Hurry: Lazy teachers and P.E. coaches are among the most universally reviled figures in America, so it's quite a trick to make a comedy in which audiences laugh with them, especially when they're this gleefully amoral. Cameron Diaz' unrepentant anti-heroine won't be to everybody's taste, but to viewers sick of being force-fed inspirational lessons who are looking to mentally flip the bird at authority, this will hit the spot.

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    The Bigger Picture: If Diaz' character Elizabeth Halsey were a man, she'd be Stone Cold Steve Austin. Openly booze-swilling, authority-flouting and unabashed about using her physical gifts when necessary, she may be politically incorrect but she's not evil. Given the right circumstances, she can deliver appropriately tough love, but has no patience for stupid and/or hypocritical people, i.e., most of the folks in her immediate vicinity.

    Forced back into the dispiriting world of education after her jellyfish fiance kicks her to the curb, Elizabeth wants to stay in the school system only long enough to buy herself a boob job and land a rich sugardaddy. She sees a potential opening when doofus heir-in-waiting Scott (Justin Timberlake) takes a teaching position as a feeble stab at self-improvement. But this becomes a problem when he falls for Elizabeth's rival, a Sarah Palin-esque Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch, putting herself on the star-making map), a deceptively cutesy overachiever with a ruthless side. Meanwhile, gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) keeps hitting on Elizabeth anyway, seeing in her a cynical soulmate, though he can offer her little in the way of income.

    Bad Teacher's obvious inspiration is Bad Santa, with which it shares a carefree, screw-the-man attitude. Unlike that film, however, it has little desire to culminate in a big setpiece, or punish its protagonist for misdeeds. The amorality on display may offend some viewers, as will the anti-PC tone on the other side. Too bad for them. This is cinema as wish fulfillment, the kind of thing we only fantasize about getting away with in the workplace ourselves. Just as kids may see Green Lantern and dream of flying into space while generating giant green weapons, parents dream of being hot and unanswerable to anybody. Elizabeth is their summer superhero.

    Timberlake's performance is a bit of an odd item, though: it's hard to tell whether his character's behavior is meant as a put-on. We're rooting for a DVD commentary that explains this a little more.

    The 180–A Second Opinion: Director Jake Kasdan occasionally loses all sense of pace, as with an extended Dangerous Minds riff that starts off funny, goes too long, then abruptly ends.

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    (Originally published Jun 23, 2011, at 7:01 p.m. PT)

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