|Mr. Woodcock (2007)
Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee,
Amy Poehler, Emily Wagner, Evan Helmuth
Director: Craig Gillespie
There is nothing about “Mr. Woodcock” that the title alone doesn’t tell you. The movie is obsessed with sex, though in a manner similar to someone who’s never actually had sex. Quick, name someone you know who is obsessed with sex but hasn’t had it yet. Let me guess, you just thought of an adolescent. How fitting, because nearly everything about “Mr. Woodcock,” particularly its humor, is adolescent.
Billy Bob Thornton is the title character, a sadistic gym teacher who made life hell for anyone he perceived as weak, most notably a chubby young boy named John Farley. Thirteen years later, John (Seann William Scott) is now a successful author of self-help books, and when he discovers that his hometown is awarding him the Corn Cob Key to the city, he postpones his book tour in order to return home and surprise his widowed mom (Susan Sarandon). John’s mom has a surprise for him, though: she’s begun seeing someone, and yep, it’s Mr. Woodcock. John is overwhelmed by such karmic injustice, and soon begins, well, making one colossally bad decision after another in order to prove what a monster Mr. Woodcock really is.
For a movie like this to work, for lack of a better word (it cheats more than it works), it requires the character in between the two warring leads to be, well, rather dense about what is happening directly in front of her. Susan Sarandon isn’t dense. She hasn’t played dense since Janet Weiss in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and this makes her actions extremely hard to swallow. But the casting of Sarandon isn’t the problem; the character is. What mother, after all, would blithely accept the circumstances as they are after witnessing her new boyfriend beating her son with a baseball bat in his own room, while dismissing her son’s protests over her new boyfriend as nothing but the acts of an overprotective son? Meanwhile, John’s alcoholic publicist Maggie (Amy Poehler, who steals the movie from everyone), who tries to pull John out of Nebraska so he can become Oprah’s latest Book of the Month Club recipient, turns out to be the movie’s sole voice of reason. The screenwriters probably meant that to be ironic, but supporting characters are only effective when they’re surrounded by lead characters that are worth supporting.
If there is any saving grace to “Mr. Woodcock,” besides Poehler, it is Thornton, who gives the role exactly what it needs, which, as it turns out, is the exact same performance Thornton gave in “School for Scoundrels,” another deeply flawed comedy. Is there any glory to be had in being the best thing about a bad movie? Wouldn’t it be better for the longevity of your career to skip a flick once in a while in the hopes of carving out a solid overall body of work? Leave it to Hollywood to be the only place where gainful employment is overrated.
Had I actually seen “Mr. Woodcock” before the end of the year, it would have no doubt landed a spot on my annual “Worst of” list. As it stands, I’ll just have to take out my frustration on the DVD instead, which shouldn’t be that difficult, since the single-disc release is actually worse than the movie itself. Apart from a 15-minute “making-of” featurette (where the cast/crew actually brag about their involvement in the film) and a handful of deleted scenes, it’s clear that the studio didn’t put a whole lot of time into this release. Then again, neither did the filmmakers.