Bad Teacher: Jake Kasdan (Mis)Directs Cameron Diaz

It’s probably a coincidence that this month alone there are two mainstream Hollywood comedies (neither particularly good) about sexy female school teachers, who are foul-mouthed and heavy drinkers, instructors who would do anything but devote themselves to their métier, that is, teach their students.

I am talking about two of our most beautiful and charming actresses: Julia Roberts in “Larry Crowne” (poorly directed by Tom Hanks), and Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher.” Our review of the embarrassingly bad Larry Crowne will appear next week. At the risk of sounding arrogant, what I remember mostly of those films is the long, shapely legs of the stars.

Pushing 40, Cameron Diaz looks younger than her age, boasting a girlish charm, gutsy attitude, and overt sex appeal that make her desirable for both female and male viewers. She is the kind of woman you could take out for a beer in a popular bar, and then to a sports game with your buddies, and she (and they) would feel at home.

In “Bad Teacher” Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, an unconventional teacher to say the least. Foul-mouthed, gleefully rude, charmingly ruthless, and wildly inappropriate, Elizabeth drinks, she gets high, and she can’t wait to marry so that she can walk away from her day job teaching middle school.

In “Larry Crowne,” Julia Roberts is married to a creep, an adulterer who spends his time porn-surfing. The point is to make her available to meet other men. Same thing happens in Bad teacher, making Elizabeth a femme who’s dumped by her fiancé, so that she can win over a rich, handsome man (Justin Timberlake, Diaz’s ex-lover in real life).

Timberlake plays a school substitute, and Diaz’s plan encounters obstacles, such as competition for his affections from an overly energetic colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch), while also fighting off the advances of the irreverent gym teacher (Jason Segel).

The writers, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and the director Jake Kasdan, go out of their way to present an outrageous, wildly funny comedy, but they end up with a middle of the road film that fails to shock viewers with Elizabeth’s outrageous schemes and their wild consequences.

Once the central premise of a teacher who relates to her work as a necessary job (to pay the bills) rather than as a noble, chosen calling is established, the ensuing tale becomes a catalogue of situations and conflicts familiar from other comedies and melodramas about American high school education.

No doubt, the reliance on raunchy talk and profane sight gags is borrowed from “There’s Something About Mary,” Diaz’s hilarious and poignant romantic comedy (and best film) to date. But unlike the Farrelly’s 1998 seminal comedy, which deals with love and other significant issues, there’s not much substance under the surface of “Bad Teacher,” which is yet another high-concept comedy.

Making matters worse is the fact that none of the male characters (and the actors who play them) is worthy of the attention of a woman like Elizabeth. The substitute teacher Scott is too geeky and childish, whereas the laidback gym instructor is just obnoxious.

It’s a mystery to me what attracted Diaz to such a poorly structured comedy, under the helm of a director, Jake Kasdan (son of writer-director Laurence Kasdan), who has never made a good picture.

End result is a sharply uneven comedy, which is ultimately more crude than rude, more irritating than funny, more middle-of-the ground than truly offensive or outrageous.