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  Mr. Woodcock

Starring: Seann William Scott, Billy Bob Thorton, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Produced by: Bob Cooper, David Dobkin

Written by: Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert

Distributor: New Line Cinema


     The major downfall of Craig Gillespie’s Mr. Woodcock is that it assumes that two good halves will always tidily come together to form a satisfying whole. It seems that the original intention of the filmmakers here was to create a full-on comedy but, somewhere in the process of putting it together, they realized that the humor present wasn’t able to carry the entire film. To compensate, director Gillespie and writers Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert decided to throw an equally-unstable amount of drama into the picture. The end-product isn’t quite as uninspired as what might’ve resulted had Mr. Woodcock limited itself to tackling one genre, but it doesn’t exactly make for a stimulating motion picture, either. In other words: the film earns a few points for ending up an interesting failure rather than a boring or painful one, but isn’t worth seeking out because it’s still a failure nonetheless.

     Billy Bob Thorton plays the title character, a hard-assed middle-school gym teacher not unlike his binge-drinking Santa-impersonator in Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa or his foul-mouthed coach in Richard Linklater’s Bad News Bears remake. In the opening scene of the film, we observe the cruel and unusual Mr. Woodcock torture his out-of-shape students by engaging in ridiculous teaching practices, such as making an asthmatic boy run laps to punish him for wheezing. Among the kids in his class is young John Farley, a chubby nerd whose gym clothes were nabbed by bullies. Woodcock observes that Farley is not dressed in the proper attire for “training,” and disciplines Farley by forcing him to change into a loner-uniform in front of the class. Farley resists, and Woodcock responds by thrusting the helpless seventh-grader onto the school’s pull-up bar to perform a workout he couldn’t possibly carry out given his weight.

     Fast-forward about fifteen years, and Farley (Seann William Scott) has established himself as our protagonist. Farley is now a likable, fit guy– and he’s just written a self-help book called Letting Go about how to deal with repressed memories from one’s past, a process that he has undergone concerning those of his that involve Mr. Woodcock. On a book tour, he makes a surprise stop home to see his mom (Susan Sarandon), only to have his worst nightmare brought to life: she’s now dating Mr. Woodcock. This stunning realization—along with the Happy Couple’s later engagement in the movie—shows to Farley an endless supply of emotions that the words in his book would highly disapprove of.

     If that sounds like a lot of plot for a silly comedy to handle, it is. Mr. Woodcock’s sense of humor clearly didn’t offer the screenwriters enough story to hold the picture afloat for ninety minutes, and they completely overcompensate for this by adding way too much plot to the equation. Doing so only lends to a vicious cycle: the addition of external-material dilutes the comedy itself. The central problem here, really, is that the only thing funny about the movie is Thorton’s cruel, dark shtick as Woodcock. (And not even this is hilarious, given the actor has played virtually the same character twice before.) Had Scott, Sarandon, or the screenplay offered anything in the way of jokes or cleverness, then perhaps the film wouldn’t have needed to get so complicated in order to fill a feature-length running-time. The aforementioned blend between comedy and drama leads to a strangely eerie and ultimately confused tone, which will more often have viewers cringing at the movie’s black comedy than embracing it within the context of each situation present. While entirely harmless at its core, Mr. Woodcock represents a hopeless motion picture, too convoluted to pleasantly divert the viewer and too half-baked to truly engross them.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.17.2007

Screened on: 9.15.2007 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


Mr. Woodcock is rated PG-13 and runs 87 minutes.

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