Mr. Woodcock (2007) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic material, language and a mild drug reference
Running time: 87 min.
Cast: Seann William Scott, Billy Bob Thornton, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee, Amy Poehler, Melissa Sagemiller, M.C. Gainey (cameo), Tyra Banks (cameo)
Director: Craig GIllespie
Screenplay: Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert
As a misfit youth, John Farley (Scott, Ice Age 2) was one of many students regularly humiliated by his bullying P.E. teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Thornton, School for Scoundrels). Now grown up, Farley returns to his small Nebraska hometown a big shot, a best-selling author of a self-help book about putting the troubles of the past behind you, for which they are honoring him with the key to the town. He must eat his own words when he finds his mother (Sarandon, Irresistable) is now the main squeeze of none other than Mr. Woodcock himself. Not wanting to see his mother make a major mistake, John tries to get Woodcock to show his true colors, but the more he tries, the more John makes himself out to be the bad guy. Adding fuel to the fire, the town is also bestowing Woodcock with the teacher of the year award. The tug of war between Woodcock and Farley is on, both for the love of a woman, but for the adoration of the town as well.
Billy Bob Thornton might have been amusing playing a surly a-hole in the last several comedies he's done, but I think that tank hit empty long before he attempted another one in Mr. Woodcock. He's a good actor, and not bad in the role, but he's been bolder, brasher and much more sinister in the past. It's not his fault, though, as this film would have been weak regardless of the star, with a predictable storyline and events that will have you recalling bits and pieces of plenty of other comedies of humiliation featuring a meek man finding the cojones to finally take on the bully in his life, only to make an utter ass of himself. Slapstick ensues, just not humorous slapstick.
Scott is somewhat appealing in a straight role, but Thornton looks bored playing another familiar jerk. Sarandon has a vastly underwritten role, possibly only cast to have another star to put on the poster, although it's hard to watch someone as intelligent and savvy have to play dumb and ditzy, rather unconvincingly. As with most emasculated male comedies, the supporting cast is full of kooks who offer absolutely no sympathy for the protagonist, except to further his humiliation at every turn. This probably marks the 50th time I've seen this same formula in the last decade alone (if not 50, it seems like it), and it's difficult to recall one that I'd consider a truly great comedy, and few worth the time to watch, never mind the money.
Even the poster, which depicts Woodcock holding a large set of basketballs as a sort of sign that he has great big testicles is unoriginal, done already by Baseketball. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in this case, judging a movie by its poster and thinking it derivative and trite would be right on the money. Here's another rule of thumb: if there aren't enough funny moments to make for a decent trailer, you're probably in for a pretty tedious movie.
I didn't like Bad Santa or School for Scoundrels, so it should come as no surprise that Mr. Woodcock didn't have what it took to win me over in the slightest. It takes more than a double entendre title to make me chuckle, and there's very little in the contents of the film that aspire any higher than that. It even ends with a feeble joke where Woodcock tells Farley to do some pushups, though how it's hard to groan when you're ecstatic at seeing the end credits finally arrive. With nothing that isn't carbon copied from practically every other male rivalry comedy in the last several years, I think I could state that, literally, after you've seen this one, you've now seen 'em all.
©2007 Vince Leo