While one can, at a push, imagine Pedro Almodovar being amused by a gag involving a holy petrified foreskin, there’s otherwise little danger of “The Bad Education Movie” being mistaken for its Spanish namesake in years to come. As scatty as it is scatological, this crudely amusing bigscreen transfer for young comedian Jack Whitehall’s popular, now-defunct BBC sitcom trots out the well-worn jokes inherent in its televisual premise, as a posh dimwit teacher is repeatedly schooled by his adoring class of state-school rascals. It does, however, graft them onto a plot — involving a grassroots political coup in, of all places, Cornwall — more extravagantly daft than a half-hour episode would permit, giving some peppy purpose to an otherwise low-rent cash-in. As for Whitehall, his film debut makes no concessions to the uninitiated, as his trademark mugging ping-pongs cheerily between the endearing and the enervating.
Where staggering domestic B.O. for 2011’s comparable TV spinoff “The Inbetweeners Movie” proved a degree of crossover appeal exceeding the sitcom’s viewership, first-weekend numbers suggest “The Bad Education Movie” hasn’t broken out beyond its young-skewing fanbase — which should at least serve it well in ancillary. (With ABC having recently passed on a pilot for the show’s American adaptation, prospects outside the U.K. seem modest.) A sequel may be far from a guaranteed prospect, but the pic does establish the elastic-faced Whitehall as a film-anchoring comic presence (and writer) for other, similarly lightweight vehicles.
An Amsterdam-set prologue makes no attempt whatsoever to explain the “Bad Education” setup to viewers unacquainted with its three successful seasons, but it’s easy enough to grasp: Outmatched history teacher Alfie Wickers (Whitehall) struggles to discipline his class on an educational tour to the Anne Frank Museum, before himself becoming the instigator of mayhem (and pratfalling into a dank canal) following an accidental ingestion of magic mushrooms. Such hijinks are business as usual for the seven teens of Class K — somehow one of the smallest in London’s crowded government school system — who are healthily varied in terms of race, sexuality and intellect, but unified in their adherence to blunt cultural stereotype, from the studious Chinese pupil (Kae Alexander) to the sassy gay one (Layton Williams).
The most substantially developed of them is insecure teacher’s pet Joe (Ethan Lawrence, finding a degree of emotional conflict in broad-brush material), whose bullishly overprotective mother Susan (Joanna Scanlan) emerges as Alfie’s chief antagonist. One year after the misbegotten Amsterdam tour, she appoints herself the stern class chaperone on a weekend trip to Cornwall, replacing Alfie’s planned agenda of pubs and house parties with a granola itinerary of historical castles and environmental centers. (Generous location shooting reps the most notable feature of an otherwise no-frills tech package.) In his attempt to escape her vindictive surveillance — and for reasons best not explained or considered — Alfie winds up being mistaken for a member of the self-styled “Cornish Liberation Army,” whose grizzled leader Pasco (Iain Glen, gamely gurning) has a violent uprising in mind.
Things get sillier still from there, while viewers can choose to what degree they wish to be offended by punchlines at the expense of the disabled, the rural or, simply, the female. (“Mumsnet have put down their massive glasses of white wine and picked up their pitchforks,” Alfie says in response to news of mothers’ complaints.) Yet stray moments of class-conscious humanity surface amid the parade of one-legged strippers, diarrhea strikes and testicle-snapping swans. There’s a touching undertow, in particular, to an extended setpiece in which Alfie is reunited with a tuxedoed gang of his former public-school chums, led by Jeremy Irvine in a sneering cameo. The hapless teacher’s jovial recollections of laddish mischief turn out to be mere fabulism, denying his lowly place on the social totem pole: The man-child becomes simply the child.
Whitehall jumps into the proceedings with baying gusto, encapsulating the character’s balance of can-do spirit and cotton-brained idiocy in a climactic speech that welds together quotations from “Braveheart,” “300” and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini. For those who find his puppyish hyperactivity wearying, Scanlan is a wily comic foil — and, considering how much unseen punishment the script piles on her nether regions, a jolly good sport.