Mr. Woodcock (2007)

7 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Billy Bob Thornton acts as yet another crude, hateful guy in “Mr. Woodcock”—he played pretty much the same character in “Bad Santa,” “Bad News Bears,” and “School for Scoundrels.” Here, he and other talented actors, including Seann William Scott and Susan Sarandon, are supposed to carry an engaging premise. But the script just kills it dead.

This is the premise—a best-selling author’s mother is about to be married to his old grade school coach who made his life hell growing up. The possibilities within this premise are endless but unfortunately, only a couple of them are added and even THEY aren’t very funny. Think of what the Coen Brothers could have done with this premise and you’d have a much better movie. But with “Mr. Woodcock” as it is, there’s hardly any hope for it at all.

We begin with an opening scene set in the time when the author was just a little fat kid in gym class. Mr. Woodcock pushes these poor kids to the limit—he tells an asthmatic kid, “Take a lap. Lose the asthma.” Then he makes the fat kid strip down to his underwear and attempt to do some pull-ups. What a guy. Cut to about twenty years later, when the fat kid (named John Farley) has definitely slimmed down and grown up to be a best-selling author about “letting go of your past.” He’s played by Seann William Scott, a good comic actor who probably hates being known only for playing Stifler in the “American Pie” movies.

John returns to his childhood home to visit his mother (Susan Sarandon). And boy does she have news for him! She’s engaged to be married to…Mr. Woodcock! Oh no!

This news turns John’s world of fame upside-down and the whole movie is either about him and Mr. Woodcock trying to bond or him trying to break up his mom and Mr. Woodcock. Well, it’s both, but it’s nothing I would really expect from a premise like this. I wish the filmmakers took chances with this instead of giving us what is supposed to be hilarity. There’s one point in the movie where John’s friend (played by Ethan Suplee) visits John, along with his brother who has a swollen eye. The friend tells John he has the solution to the problem—he pops in a videotape and it shows the little brother in a backyard saying unconvincingly, “No, Mr. Woodcock,” and a chair thrown right in the kid’s face. Was that supposed to be funny? Physical abuse to smaller children? There are also plenty of crude, vulgar jokes which are also not funny because the characters know what they’re in for, whereas in “American Pie,” the characters didn’t know what they were in for.

And of course, there are all sorts of slapstick in which a character gets hurt while trying to score a laugh—only one of them worked and it’s in the film’s trailer. It’s the part where John and Woodcock race on treadmills and John slips and falls back into the wall. That was kind of funny.

Billy Bob Thornton does play this role well but then again, we’ve seen him play this guy many times before. He’s the guy who finds your weakness and uses it for nearly sadistic purposes. He’s insulting, hateful, crude, vulgar, violent, and worst of all, uncompromising. (“You must like getting spanked, Farley. I guess it runs in the family.” Ouch.) Seann William Scott, on the other hand, is an annoying whiner and there’s no way I could believe his character could write a best-selling book. Susan Sarandon as the mom is nice, but she’s dumb to fall for Woodcock’s tricks. And then there’s Amy Poehler who plays John’s agent and girlfriend, does the bitch part over-the-top to the point where I wanted her to go away.

“Mr. Woodcock” is a missed opportunity. I would love to give it zero stars, but I’m giving it one-and-a-half instead because of the premise, that one laugh, and Billy Bob Thornton. The rest is just trash.

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