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Billy Bob Thornton ………. Mr. Woodcock
Seann William Scott ………. John Farley
Susan Sarandon ………. Beverly Farley
Amy Poehler ………. Maggie Hoffman
Melissa Sagemiller ………. Tracy
Ethan Suplee ………. Nedderman
Jacob Davich ………. Nedderman’s Brother
Somewhere deep inside of Mr. Woodcock there’ s a terrific movie waiting to come out about a guy learning to let his mother be happy in a relationship long after his father has passed. There’s a film to be found somewhere in this mess of a comedy that probably combine some good slapstick comedy with a story about a guy (Seann William Scott) who made it outside of his small Nebraska farming town only to find his mother (Susan Sarandon) has been dating the man (Billy Bob Thornton) who pushed him to become the man he is today. Sadly the film takes an unoriginal, unfunny script devoid of any real comedy and expects repeated use of the name “Mr. Woodcock” to draw monster-sized laughs.
Thornton plays the aforementioned Mr. Woodcock, a gym teacher who makes it his personal mission to make men out of the boys he works with at the local junior high school. One of those was John Farley (Scott), who’s repeated humiliations drove him to go from being the local fat kid to being a best-selling author about letting go of the past. Its simple advice mothers give out everywhere, but self-help aisles are filled with books like this, and Farley is the latest author in the genre to gain some traction. When Farley is awarded the film’s prestigious Corn Cob Key, he goes home to surprise his mother and accept the award. Finding out the man who haunts his nightmares is sleeping with his mother, Farley and Woodcock engage in a decidedly one-sided game of one-upmanship culminating in an amateur wrestling match to settle the score.
And the problem with all of this is that Farley, the protagonist, is portrayed as an unathletic loser who can’t seemingly follow his own advice. Farley gets beaten in so many ways, out-smarted by the gym teacher, and is portrayed as a monstrous loser in all accords despite his success. It’s hard to root for someone against a seemingly invincible enemy when they’re portrayed as vastly unlikable. It’s not that Scott doesn’t try to make Farley a winning character; it’s just that he’s not really suited for it. Farley is a guy with a permanent smile and a book about letting it go and Scott is an actor known for wisecracks. There are times when Farley isn’t a character we root for, despite him being the guy the film pushes hard for us to do so, because he comes off as such a new-age pansy that one would think he would be an ineffective villain as opposed to be a weakling protagonist.
One has to feel sorry for Thornton. A terrific actor in his own right, he’s given a character in the vein of his iconic portrayal of Willy in Bad Santa except without any of the heart or likeability Willy shows. Given near complete and utter dominance over his opponent, Woodcock becomes someone we can cheer for if only because the hero of the film is more of a subject to pity than admiration.
The film’s bright moment is Amy Poehler, who steals every scene she’s in. As Farley’s literary agent, she has the film’s best lines and its singular hilarious moment as she chews him out on camera for a television show. Spewing enough profanities and colorful words that would put a Drill Sergeant to shame, her about face seconds later is shockingly funny in a way it shouldn’t be. Every time she’s on the screen it’s guaranteed hilarity, as opposed to the other 75 minutes of unfunny and awful film-making posing as “entertainment.”
For a film that endured three weeks of reshoots by a different director, as well as having its release changed by nearly a year in terms of time, Mr. Woodcock is in contention for something in a season that begins he prestige picture push. It’s perhaps the worst movie of the year.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):