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Back to school; A rewrite is needed on bland, bad 'Bad Teacher'

She smokes weed out in the parking lot. In fact, her desk drawer has a false bottom so she's never too far away from her drug stash -- weed, pills, whatever.

She thinks it's perfectly OK to drive a little buzzed, as long as you're not drooling, staggering drunk. (So, it seems to me, does the movie, which, if you must know, I find more than a little uncool.)

Back when it looked as if her hot-bodied self was enough to get her rich boyfriend to the altar, she'd drive the Mercedes he gave her at 60 mph in reverse in the parking lot of the middle school where she teaches. Now that his mother's on her case and raising questions about her all-too-evident gold-digging, she doesn't drive a Mercedes anymore. She drives the kind of red, rattletrap clunkmobile that most of her fellow middle school teachers drive.

Most days, she shows movies about inspirational teachers in class ("Stand and Deliver," "Lean on Me") so she can sleep the previous night's excesses away at her desk.

Money, now, isn't so easy to come by without a rich boyfriend -- the $10,000, for instance, she needs for the breast implants she covets. Why else would she publicly slide, slather and writhe her soap-soaked self all over neighborhood cars during the annual John Adams Middle School car wash? (Hey, you embezzle your money however you can.)

On the other hand, when she finds that there's almost $6,000 in it for the teacher whose classes achieve the highest test scores, she gets in it to win it, quizzing her students in the gym and, when they give the wrong answers, heaving rubber dodge balls at their heads and private parts.

"Bad Teacher" is a reasonably bad movie that wastes a great basic idea -- and a few minor good ones along the way. If the idea of Diaz as a hot-bodied middle school faculty Aphrodite treating her students like dog doo (and fellow teachers even worse) sounds wildly promising as a notion for R-rated megaplex junk, I'm with you all the way.

The trouble with the fictional character played by Diaz -- the unholy terror of John Adams Middle School -- is that she really isn't wholly bad at all, just a superficial entitlement goddess trying to be a much sleazier human being than she really is.

Look here, I say, we're living in a world where there are female teachers who actually fall in love with sixth-grade students and leave their families for them (Mary Kay Letourneau, come onnnn, down ). And where English teachers in Texas are charged with having sex parties with five boys from the football team (all over 18) while her kids were sleeping upstairs and her husband was serving in the military a few hundred miles away (Brittni Colleps, you're on "Candid Camera!").

You call THIS woman bad? Or, for that matter, this movie a raucous comedy about school? Did director Jake Kasdan ever see one episode of David E. Kelley's TV series "Boston Public?"

It's hard to watch this movie without wanting a total rewrite. This could have been really something as a very black comedy about all manner of awfulness, incompetence and worse from everyone at a middle school -- students, faculty, administration -- and our heroine, the self-involved bimbo, as the unexpected savior of educational values.

That would have been something.

Instead, we have this secretly bland, bland, bland teen exploitation comedy about a gorgeous teacher pursuing a wealthy colleague (Justin Timberlake doing dweebiness, a la Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby" in his ex-girlfriend's movie) while she is pursued by the gym teacher who's, uhhh, fine with her bustline just the way nature made it (Jason Segel).

Diaz is good enough to make you wish it had been truly antisocial enough to justify her. What there is to steal is stolen by co-star Lucy Punch as the perfect teacher across the hall who's our girl's nemesis.

Wasted entirely in the film is one of the great comic actresses I know -- Jillian Armenante. If you remember her as Amy Brenneman's assistant Donna on "Judging Amy," you remember some of the most exquisite comic timing prime-time TV fodder ever had. She's in the movie for about seven seconds. On the other hand, so is David Paymer, as a plastic surgeon demonstrating remake possibilities, who hereby qualifies as the luckiest character actor in modern movies.

A waste, though, pretty much all the way through it seems to me.




2 1/2 stars

STARRING: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, John Michael Higgins

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

RATING: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.

THE LOWDOWN: Disinterested middle school teacher schemes to keep her job while saving up for breast implants.

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