Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Sean William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Amy Poehler, Ethan Suplee
Director: Craig Gillespie
Producer: Bob Cooper, David Dobkin
Release Date: September 14, 2007
Running time: 97 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: New Line Cinema
“Well, I am known for my meat.”
- Jasper Woodcock in Mr. Woodcock
Childhood fatty gets tormented by his gym teacher, grows up and writes a book only to find out the object of all his motivations is now dating his mother.
6th grade. Third period gym. Coach Stange.
Everybody knew all you had to do was show up and dress for class and you’d get an easy A; so that I did. Yet at the end of the first semester I had to explain to my folks why I got a C- in gym class. I argued over and over that Coach Stange flat out hated my guts. Mom even went so far as to call the school to find out. Why the low grade for a whole semester? According to him, it was because I forgot my gym clothes one time and I needed to be taught some discipline. It took her until the next year of seeing A’s in gym for her to finally believe me that he did actually hate me. I didn’t let my distaste for him ruin or guide my life, but God I hated that guy. Mr. Woodcock tell a similar, albeit slightly more colorful version of that same story.
Growing up in small town Nebraska, John Farley (Sean William Scott) was one of the many child victims tormented by their gym teacher, Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). He has since grown up to be a successful writer, penning a seemingly worthless self help bestseller Letting Go: Getting Past Your Past. Farley returns home to claim a local prize only to find that the source of all of his childhood frustrations and adult motivations, Mr. Woodcock, is now dating his mother.
I don’t know why, but the fact that Woodcock looked exactly the same 13 years later made me laugh. Out loud, even. Beyond that, watching Thornton chew the screen was about as good as this movie got. He must’ve typed in Bad Santa into his flux capacitor and hit cruise control because he’s basically doing the same character. The only thing is, like that bad joke you like so well no matter how many times you hear it, it never really gets old. It is widely understood that Billy Bob Thornton is arguably one of the greatest working actors today, and I love seeing him get down and dirty in his dramatic best, but watching him verbally berate people on screen never ceases to be funny to me. At least not yet. I typically like my Sean William Scott cocky and idiotic (see: the American Pie films and The Rundown), so his sniveling, whining, Farley didn’t play that well. Ethan Suplee as Farley’s childhood friend Nedderman, adds another dopey sidekick to his resume and Amy Poehler continues to be as annoying as ever as Maggie, Farley’s agent. I wouldn’t mind it if she was funny, but only being there to forcefully interject her stock one-liners grew tiresome very quickly. Susan Sarandon plays it straight as Beverly Farley, but does it really matter in a movie with the title Mr. Woodcock?
The movie is one joke stretched as thing as it can without breaking. To say this is a good movie, or even a funny one is pushing the limits of my honesty. There are a few laughs here and there but for the most part, it isn’t really worth anyone’s time, cast included. Woodcock plays it all badass until the end somewhere and tries to pull a cowardly lion by finding a heart. I would have preferred him either having all heart or none at all. This isn’t the type of character where I expect to see growth. And the oh-so-predictable ending does what you would expect any one note joke of a movie to do, try to teach us a lesson. And that lesson is this: If you and your mother are sitting in a hospital waiting room, her in her 1970 Corn Cob Queen gown, and you in your high school wrestling tights, both holding on to the past, your best bet is to just go with it because Woodcock is about the most entertaining thing either one of you have going for you. And that’s not saying much. Coach Stange, if you’re out there, had you been remotely funny like this I wouldn’t have thought you were suck a prick all these years.
Mindless and predictable, Mr. Woodcock is the kind of movie that works best when you’ve seen everything else, there is nothing on TV, and you have nothing else to do. Don’t expect gut busting Superbad type laughs, but Billy Bob Thornton is good for a few chuckles, and about the only thing worth seeing. It’s not really good at all but I didn’t completely hate it only because it served its purpose - to help me kill a few hours, even if it had to take a few brain cells with it.
And there’s the rub.
** out of ****