Everyone has had a teacher or two they hated. Mine was the high school gym teacher, Mr. Hastings. He was a hairy, squat man with rotten teeth and breath that could melt a steel I-beam. He had no idea what the hell he was doing, so he’d just make the class do mundane exercises while muttering aloud about how much more he knew than the rest of us. Mr. Woodcock is a movie about that same authority-type figure from my childhood, only this time he is tormenting someone else and I’m supposed to laugh at it.
That poor soul happens to be John Farley (Seann William Scott). His abuser was Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). Woodcock tormented him 13 years ago, and it was so humiliating for John, that it was enough to impress a lasting memory deep into his psyche. So much so, that he had to reinvent himself as a self-help guru to get over the pain. This has worked out well for him, as it has led to a best-selling book Letting Go: How to Get Past Your Past, a whirlwind book tour and an appearance on Oprah . But advice be damned when John finds out his old nemesis is tapping the ass of and planning to marry his mother Beverly (Susan Sarandon). All the pent up frustrations from long ago resurface and John quickly comes to the conclusion he must purge his life of the sweatsuit adorned devil again. His only problem is he is a complete noob and for comedic purposes his attempts are fraught with failure.
And unfortunately for him and us, not only do his attempts fail miserably, but aside from two distinct scenes (yes, I counted them), they are completely unfunny as well. I’m not quite sure what the writers (Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert) were thinking as they wrote this. They sure as hell didn’t think to come up with anything ingenious or try to put an original spin on anything. Instead, they rehashed so many old setups and gags, my grandfather (who has been catatonic for fifteen years) questioned their desire to make a funny movie. I suspect they knew the story was crap, hence the reason Seann William Scott and Billy Bob Thornton were cast. Even though these two have starred in some memorable comedic roles – Seann William Scott in the American Pie films and Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa – they simply don’t have the power to breathe life into this D.O.A. offering.
On a positive note, Susan Sarandon adds a speck of credibility to the film. She’s an effective counterweight to the absurdity exuded by the two men in her life, as they scramble for her love and test to see who has the largest nut sack. Plus to top it all off, for an old chicken (she’s in her 60’s), she still carries herself with an overt sexiness not seen in most actresses half her age. Amy Poehler, who has suddenly appeared in nearly every comedy made in 2007, also adds just the right amount of extra estrogen to the mix. True, she doesn’t have a lick of ability to act, but the type of character she repeatedly plays is always good for a laugh or two.
Other than that, there isn’t much else to Mr. Woodcock worth noting. Little creativity, bland writing and even blander characters make this flick easily forgettable. Billy Bob Thornton should focus his energies on doing more serious work again (which he is fantastic at) and stop lending his name to half-inspired comedies. I’d say the same for Seann William Scott but that is all he is capable of. Go watch Superbad again if you want a hearty laugh because you won’t find it here.