"Bad Teacher is faintly amusing, but promises much more than it delivers."

Cameron Diaz has been having a bit of a dry spell in the comedy arena of late.  The nearly laugh-free Knight And Day was followed up with an almost non-existent role as Seth Rogen’s love interest in The Green Hornet – both roles trading on her looks rather than her ability to actually generate any laughs.

Bad Teacher gives her the opportunity to redress the balance in a lead role rather than supporting eye-candy but the result is uneven and the jokes spread too thinly to effectively hail a return to comedy form.

Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a foul-mouthed gold digger forced to return to a life as a high-school teacher when her fiancée ditches her after he gets wise to her plan to milk him for all his hard-earned cash.  She’s predictably irresponsible: turning up hung-over, sleeping through class and assigning movies instead of teaching the required texts.

She’s spurred into action when she spies sappy new supply teacher Scott (Justin Timberlake) who she learns is the heir to a vast fortune.  Convinced that she’ll have a much better chance with him if he gets breast implants, she attempts to win the yearly bonus for the highest rated class but without the ability to actually teach, she instead seduces the local examiner in an attempt to steal this year’s SAT papers.  Meanwhile, she’s brushing off the advances of well-meaning, sarcastic PE teacher Russell (Jason Segel) and fighting off competition from squawking puritan Amy (Lucy Punch).

The trailer promised a laugh-a-minute hit – Diaz as a sassy, over-sexed manipulative cow.  And well, she is, but Bad Teacher isn’t as funny or even as fun as it makes out.   The laughs are there but chuckles which come thick and fast in a two and half minute trailer are left shivering alone in the cold like abandoned children over the course of 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast try hard but ultimately serve to be more irritating than amusing.  Lucy Punch trots out the same overt loudmouthed oddball schtick that she’s pulled in her last few movies but worryingly seems to be steadily morphing into Catherine Tate – this time replete with ginger hair and some of Tate’s more noticeable mannerisms.  With Tate herself looking to make the move the Hollywood shortly, there’s bound to be a comedy misunderstanding at some point.  

Her character here is an insufferable goody two-shoes; the kind that strives earnestly to make learning fun, while making all concerned want to bludgeon themselves to death with a stapler than listen to another word.

Timberlake is too drippy to really generate any significant laughs although a scene in which he dry-humps Diaz will evince a smirk (if only because the two are real life exes and it’s difficult not to imagine how awkward that must have been to film).

This is partly because as Elizabeth is awful, her co-workers have to be insufferable to make us root for her.  It’s cool vs. stuck up, rock ‘n’ roll vs. easy listening, Mötley Crüe vs. The Lighthouse Family. In that respect, it’s successful; anyone that gets through Bad Teacher without wanting to drown Amy in a bucket deserves a medal but Diaz’s character could have been more humorously sociopathic: there’s a persistent feeling that punches were pulled, that depravity was curtailed at the last minute and for the most part all that Bad Teacher manages is a limp-wristed slap where it should have delivered a jaw-shattering punch.

Thank goodness then for Jason Segel whose irreverent gym teacher manages to squeeze more laughs out of his limited screen time (sample: “hold my ball sack”) than Diaz manages in the whole rest of the movie but he’s a spicy garnish or an otherwise bland pie. 

Bad Teacher is faintly amusing, but promises much more than it delivers.