Published Jun 13 2011, 09:42 BST
By Stella Papamichael
They say those who can't do, teach. Cameron Diaz
is a case in point as Miss Halsey, a brazen gold-digger merely passing the time till the dinner bell rings and the next meal ticket comes along. He appears in the guise of Justin Timberlake, who makes a self-conscious grab for laughs as a tweedy fellow teacher and heir to a fortune, distracting Miss Halsey from her true match, a PE instructor played by Jason Segel. It's a refreshingly low-concept comedy, but its appeal can be neatly summed up as America's Sweetheart turned sour - sure to provoke lots of sniggering at the back.
Strutting through the halls of John Adams Middle School in short skirts and killer heels, Elizabeth Halsey looks out of place from the start. She's happy to rub everyone's faces in it too as she picks up her P45 and zooms off in her sports car to a new life with a dim-witted sugar daddy. Alas, he's also a momma's boy who is persuaded that Halsey is bad news so our anti-heroine quickly finds herself back behind the teacher's desk, swigging booze from the bottom drawer while the kids are treated to educational movies like Michelle Pfeiffer classic Dangerous Minds
. Oh, the irony...
Fortunately for Miss Halsey, the small-town kids that make up her class are angels compared to the street tough crowd Pfeiffer had to put up with. Roles have been reversed, but Halsey's tendency to mouth off (going as far as to spit home-baked cookies in the face of an ingratiating nerd) is nothing compared to the immaturity of her next plan. She's convinced a boob job will lure her a millionaire even after fixing on Mr. Delacourte (Timberlake) who stubbornly sees the best in people, whatever their race, creed or cup size. His earnest waffle makes him the butt of jokes for PE teacher Russell, but Segel has an easygoing style that tempers the sarcasm.
Diaz and Segel don't have any great chemistry. They're bonded by the dubious virtue of being the only sane members of staff at John Adams (cutely dubbed 'Jams' by John Michael Higgins's over-friendly principal). The real fireworks happen between Diaz and Lucy Punch (the bunny boiler in Dinner for Schmucks
) playing to type as the erratic Miss Squirrel. She jumps at any chance to show up her colleague and cosies up to Delacourte with surprising success. Miss Halsey is forced to go to Plan C, which means actually educating her pupils to ace the State exams, thus earning herself a cash prize to get that boob job. Still, a little cheating proves hard to resist.
Halsey's mission is tenuous and convoluted. Looking at the bigger picture, it just doesn't make sense that a woman so resourceful could decide that bigger boobs are the only pass to a better life. It points to an underlying flaw with the script; veering between hardnosed humour and utter silliness. Walk Hard
director Jake Kasdan keeps it from slipping too far one way or the other, but the better gags capitalise on Diaz acting inappropriately whether hosting a charity carwash in hot pants, or giving a bullied boy her underwear for bragging rights. Of course her misguided actions serve the greater good and that gradually inspires her, but Kasdan is wise to keep the touchy-feely stuff to a minimum. Diaz has a girlish charm that means she gets away with a series of cynical pranks, even though she's not quite as big and clever as she thinks she is.
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