Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Bad Teacher" — This is exactly the one-joke movie that you probably expect it to be, but there are enough variations and shadings of that one joke to sustain its brief running time — just barely. Cameron Diaz plays ... a bad teacher. She secretly sips airline-size booze bottles during class, doesn't bother to learn her students' names and figures that showing them movies about education like "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds" is just as good as educating them herself. Because you see, she's not teaching English at a suburban Chicago middle school for the deeply rewarding experience of shaping young minds. She just needs enough cash for a boob job, which she thinks will help her land a rich husband. Like the far superior "Bad Santa" from 2003, the key source of laughs here is the subversion of an authority figure who's supposed to be trustworthy, reliable, even honorable. And, like Billy Bob Thornton in that earlier film, Diaz just goes for it in a role that lets her be brazenly sexy and inappropriately funny all at once. Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Phyllis Smith and Justin Timberlake help greatly in supporting roles. R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use. 89 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"A Better Life" — Director Chris Weitz follows "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" with this exploration of his Hispanic roots, a fairly satisfying though by-the-numbers drama about an illegal Mexican immigrant struggling to build a decent future for his teenage son. Mexican star Demian Bichir is superbly restrained as the father, while newcomer Jose Julian delivers with honesty and passion as his son. The story itself is rather obvious and superficial, Weitz presenting an outsider's look at immigrant life built around a few shaky plot devices. The theft of the father's new truck sends him and his surly, distant son on a quest to retrieve it, while reinvigorating their relationship. It's a lightweight take on "The Bicycle Thief," Vittorio De Sica's neorealism replaced by Weitz's glossy glimpses of L.A.'s infinite diversity and its teaming Hispanic subculture. The story coughs up convenient opportunities and obstacles. The theft of the truck itself feels particularly forced, a groaner of a story ruse that's only salvaged by the deep anguish Bichir infuses in the moment. PG-13 for some violence, language and brief drug use. 98 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Cars 2" — Pixar's track record has been close to impeccable. But the weak link in the chain, at least from a narrative standpoint, has always been 2006's "Cars," with its two-dimensional talking autos and hokey, borrowed tale of small-town life. It was bright and zippy, though, which was enough to appeal to the little ones, and it became a merchandising juggernaut. So sure, why not make a sequel? Trouble is, "Cars 2" is such a glossy bore, it makes the original look like it ought to rank among Pixar's masterpieces by comparison. What has set the studio's films apart from all the other animated fare is story: It's paramount. "Cars 2" tries to encompass many kinds of stories at once, none of which is terribly clever or compelling. There's an international grand prix for Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) to compete in, a spy spoof and a message about the importance of alternative fuel sources. And one of the biggest mistakes of all was placing Mater, the rusty, aw-shucks tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, front and center. Still, Pixar mastermind John Lasseter's film is shiny, colorful and pretty, which should keep the young ones happy. Michael Caine, John Turturro and Emily Mortimer co-star. G. Running time: 106 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" — For you fans who can't get enough of Conan O'Brien on his late-night TBS show, and who are game to revisit the tumultuous time when NBC's squeeze play put him out of a job while reinstating Jay Leno at "The Tonight Show," this documentary should be right up your alley. For anybody else, it's simply an engaging, breathless road-trip portrait. It candidly captures the abruptly-unemployed TV host as he embraces a new challenge: mounting and headlining a 32-city concert tour to fill the void and nurse his wounds after he left NBC in early 2010 and, according to the exit deal, was barred from being on TV for six long months. The film gives its audience a front-row seat for glimpses of the show and goes behind the scenes as this seasoned TV veteran reinvents himself for an untried kind of show-biz gig. Along the way, the film provides fresh insights into the psyche of O'Brien, who, ever since landing on the air at NBC in 1993, has been considered one of TV's nicest, most levelheaded personalities. "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" doesn't undermine that image, but instead humanizes it with flashes of bitterness, crankiness and flat-out exasperation on Conan's part. R for mild rude language. 89 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
— Frazier Moore, AP Television Writer