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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 28 

BAD TEACHER It's no Bad Santa, but Bad Teacher brings just enough naughty behavior to the table to make it a decent watch for viewers tired of PG-13 timidity. In her best role since 2005's underrated In Her Shoes, Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a gold-digging middle-school teacher who, having just been dumped by her wealthy fiancé, sets her sights on substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who happens to be the heir to a watch-making dynasty. Elizabeth is manipulative, deceitful, insensitive and lazy, and she's forced to use all her cunning to dislodge Scott from the grip of a perpetually peppy teacher named Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Meanwhile, nice-guy gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel) hangs around, hoping to get past Elizabeth's obvious disinterest in him. Hollywood, which fashions itself as a bearer of moral messages, usually feels the need to take down its flawed characters before the closing credits, with the arrogant/narcissistic/self-centered protagonist miraculously transformed into a wellspring of small sacrifices and big embraces (e.g. half of Jim Carrey's canon). To its credit, Bad Teacher doesn't resort to such shameless pandering: Like Billy Bob Thornton's Willie in Bad Santa, Diaz's Elizabeth Halsey bends but doesn't break, and the film has no need to automatically punish the wicked for their indiscretions. On the downside, the combination of a short running time, often erratic pacing, and a number of red-band-trailer moments conspicuously missing from the finished piece suggests that the studio ultimately didn't have quite enough faith in the picture to let it all hang out. This Bad Teacher is amusing enough to earn a passing mark, but we'll have to wait for the unrated cut on DVD/Blu-ray in order to fully gauge this school project's merit. **1/2

CAPTAIN AMERICA Even moviegoers suffering from superhero burnout might want to stand up and salute Captain America, which doesn't match the excellence of X-Men: First-Class but ranks ahead of fellow summer stablemates Thor and Green Lantern. I've long held a soft spot for 1991's The Rocketeer and 2004's Hidalgo, two box office underachievers that refreshingly stripped away the modern era's automatic coat of cynicism and instead delivered old-fashioned thrills with no trace of irony or condescension. Both films were helmed by Joe Johnston, and coming off the disastrous monster muddle The Wolfman, he's back in his gee-whiz element here. Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid whose 4F status repeatedly prevents him from being accepted into the army during World War II. But responding to the youth's inner decency rather than his outward lack of muscles, a kindly scientist (Stanley Tucci) turns him into the ultimate super-soldier. The sickly Steve Rogers now sports a Charles Atlas physique, and he eventually goes after the man who has emerged as his arch-nemesis: Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi whose use of the same serum has transformed him into the appropriately named Red Skull. As expected, the movie has the requisite CGI bombast, although the most unique visual effect involved digitally altering the buff Evans so that he would appear emaciated in the early sequences — an approach that works far better than the technique for which The Curious Case of Benjamin Button managed to grab a Visual Effects Oscar. Aside from the effects, the movie generally takes a decidedly more low-key approach, both in tone and performance. Balanced enough to offer entertainment to young and old alike, Captain America should make us all proud to be moviegoers. ***

THE CHANGE-UP Hollywood's latest men-will-be-boys bit of buffoonery, The Change-Up opens with a baby projectile-pooping straight into his father's mouth. It's a sensation that won't be entirely unfamiliar to audiences members who subject themselves to this cinematic cesspool's frontal assault. Part of a subgenre that seems to be growing more witless as it grows more raunchy, this "man-child" feature also brings back that popular 1980s staple: the body switch comedy. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds respectively portray workaholic family man Dave and slacker pothead Mitch, who drunkenly wish they had each other's lives while urinating into a magic fountain (stay with me, people). Waking up the next morning occupying the other's body, Dave and Mitch desperately try to reverse the situation. But first, they must spend a few days as the other fellow, meaning that the uptight Dave has to perform Mitch's duties in a softcore porn flick while the irresponsible Mitch has to dole parental advice to Dave's oldest daughter (Sydney Rouviere) and share the matrimonial bed with Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Mann). A chaotic scene in which Mitch fails to properly supervise Dave's twin infants, resulting in near-accidents with a blender and an electrical outlet, will infuriate many adults, but truth be told, it's about the only gag that's even remotely fresh in this stale endeavor (if anything, it reminded me of Baby Herman's outlandish exploits in those Roger Rabbit cartoons). The rest is the usual mix of anus-and-penis-fixated gags, ritual female humiliation (Mann, as usual, deserves far better), and insincere, late-inning attempts to show us that all of these wacky shenanigans turned Dave and Mitch into better people. Riiight... I'm more likely to believe that Rick Santorum will be the keynote speaker at Charlotte's upcoming Democratic National Convention. *1/2

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