13 October 2007 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Mr. Woodcock
"Take a lap!" "Set of 10!"
With a name like W-o-o-d-c-o-c-k (roll it off your tongue slowly for maximum effect), you'd have expect the jokes to come fast and furious about the appendage. Well there are, however, the best parts of Mr Woodcock are not the sexual innuendos, but come from the various gymnasium scenes, where Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thorton) the PE teacher runs his classes like a sadistic drill sergeant, and all the misfits tremble in fear and loathe as he puts them through the paces, with physical, mental and emotional abuse dished out in deadpan manner. The filmmakers know this, and set the bar high enough from the get go, but only for the movie to spiral in the general southwards direction.
Thirteen years after his unforgettable years of growing up under Mr Woodcock's insults, John Farley (Seann William Scott) becomes a renowned self help guru and published a bestseller called "Letting Go: How to Get Past Your Past", because it takes one successful loser to teach the rest how to move on. During a journey back home where you're hit with a barrage of literally corny jokes, John realizes to his horror that his mother Beverly (Susan Sarandon) is now dating Mr Woodcock, and he makes it his mission to dissuade her from giving him a new stepdad, one who has been the bane of his childhood.
That basically becomes the premise of the movie, and a highly predictable one at that. You'll see from a mile away every conceivable plot development coming toward you, and it doesn't help that the short run time of under 90 minutes probably meant some material were reserved for the DVD release. You can tell by some of the continuity errors, helped in no part by John's bad haircut episode.
Billy Bob Thorton owns the movie as Woodcock, delivery his deliciously acidic remarks with aplomb. Alpha-male type roles are nothing new to Thorton, and bullying or whipping losers to shape are part of the game, just like School for Scoundrels. And here he plays the unapologetic teacher with EQ problems, taking perverse delight in seeing his charges suffer. Sean William Scott is better known unfortunately for his loud and over the top Stifler from the American Pie movies, but given a rather muted character like John Farley, he fades away quicker than you can spell l-o-s-e-r. Susan Sarandon rounds up the lead cast as the woman caught between two men, and frankly I thought it was like an extension of her mother's role in Elizabethtown. Look out for more Sarandon in an upcoming movie called Enchanted, which takes the mickey out of a Disney movie. Most of the other supporting cast like Amy Poehler and Ethan Suplee got wasted, with the former being a self-professed alcoholic Barbie doll, while the other a fanatic who had read John's book 900 times and counting.
Mr Woodcock isn't laugh out loud or laugh a minute, but it has its moments. Sadly, most of the best bits made their way to the trailers, making the movie seem like an empty shell. And given the editing fiasco of late, Mr Woodcock suffers from censorship too, with what I thought was just verbal expressions of ecstasy being snipped off and left on the cutting room floor. Pity.