Studio: New Line
US Rating: PG-13 For crude and sexual content, thematic material, language and a mild drug reference
Film Length: 88 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Engish Dolby Surround
Subtitles: Optional Spanish and English SDH
The Film - out of
Do you ever get that feeling that you have experienced something before, seen things or heard things that are supposed to be brand new but you cannot shake that feeling of déjà vu; that feeling that it isn’t new at all? Well, that is what you will likely experience if you sit down to watch Mr. Woodcock. The film turns out to be simply a barrage of the all-too familiar with an antagonist that has been reborn more times on the big screen lately than Freddie Kruger or Jason Voorhees.
Incredulously, Billy Bob Thornton referred to his sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited antagonist character, Mr. Woodcock, as a character “we haven’t seen before”. I like Billy Bob Thornton, but there is nothing about that statement that is remotely true. In fact, the irony is that not only have we all seen that character plenty of times in the past few years, but they have all been played by him. Let’s run through his recent filmography. Of the nine films since 2003’s Bad Santa, in which he plays a sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited Santa Claus, he has played a sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited kids baseball coach in the 2005Bad News Bears remake; a sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited thief in 2005’s The Ice Harvest; a sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited dating coach in 2006’s School For Scoundrels and now a sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited gym teacher in 2007’s Mr. Woodcock.
The plot is entirely perfunctory, with Seann William Scott (American Pie) playing the author of a best selling self-help book ‘Letting Go – Getting Past Your Past’, who, upon realizing that his traumatizing gym teacher is going to be marrying his mother, manages to do everything his own book advises him not to do. His mother, played by Susan Sarandon, is naturally oblivious to the meaner side of her new man and sees her son’s protestations as merely the shenanigans of a boy protecting his status as the man of her life.
Naturally the verbal feuding and playful jabs between Thornton and Scott escalate into a war of testosterone and childish spite with Scott, the movie’s straight man, looking desperate and pathetic all the way.
With a script by Michael Carnes & Josh Gilbert and directed by Craig Gillespie, the problems with Mr. Woodcock can be laid squarely at their feet. The script has only a few moments where the humor inherent in the premise is let loose, beyond that, the scenes feel strangely unfinished, set ups have no punch-line and too much of the 88 minute running time is spent on trying to build up some emotional connection to Susan Sarandon’s character. The direction is bland and purely functional, giving the film no visual identity whatsoever. I am becoming increasingly wary of films that come in under the staple of a 90 minute running time. It is typically the indication of one of two things. Either the filmmakers ran out of ideas on a one-note concept and couldn’t produce enough material to run longer than an hour and a half, or the film was trimmed down so much because they knew they didn’t have a winner and were doing there best to be able to squeeze in as many showings as possible during the opening weekend before the inevitable ‘word-of-mouth’ took hold and informed the unsuspecting public to stay away.
What many will find with New Line’s Mr. Woodcock is a retread of Thornton’s characters of late, with the same ‘means to an end’ storyline and ample scenes that waste ideas and amount to little. There are no surprises here at all. Billy Bob Thornton again nails the tone of the mean one, but, as with School for Scoundrels doesn’t reach the level of bad-guy charm or pitch perfect tone that he achieved with the insanely funny Bad Santa. I will give it to him, however, that he clearly is enjoying himself – so why shouldn’t he take on a role that he knows he can do and knows he will have fun doing. But for the world that is then asked to pay money to see him, very little incentive remains in seeing him further dilute the same character. He is a talented actor who can still choose varied and likeable roles in enjoyable films (The Astronaut Farmer, Friday Night Lights), but enough already with the ‘sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited’ fill-in-the-blank.
The film also employs the talents of the funny Amy Poehler (SNL) and Ethan Suplee (NBC’s My Name is Earl). Amy has some good scenes, but beyond being a knock off of his character from the NBC show, Ethan Suplee’s presence in the film seems entirely superfluous.
New Line Cinema presents Mr. Woodcock in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. The image is somewhat soft throughout and doesn’t manage to pop at all. What is striking about the image is just how average it is. For a newer release, a greater level of clarity or sharpness is expected, but Mr. Woodcock is simply not that good. Unless it was intended for the color tone to be a little flat, the film looks a little pale and drab. There is no visual distinction between Sean William Scott’s flashbacks to his childhood gym days and the present, where the film is set, which is also disappointing.
The film comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a stereo surround sound option. The film opens with Jasper Woodcock (Thornton) walking towards the kids in the gym in slow motion bouncing a basketball. That moment really sounds great; booming bass, rattling the sub-woofer. Unfortunately – that is as exciting as the audio gets. It does the job with some surround action here and there, clear center channel and some fun with the music and the ‘cornival’ scene – but at the end of the day, it is exceedingly average.
Deleted Scenes - (12:49) – 10 deleted scenes with some good ideas but mostly excess that resembles some of the stuff left in the final cut.
Making of Mr. Woodcock - (15:31) – The writers and actors speak highly of the production they are in. It appears from this 15+ minutes that the cast and crew may very well have had more time in front of and behind the camera than we had watching the final product. Of note are the two stunt kids doing the wrestling scene with Billy Bob Thornton – they are the twin boys of famed stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker. Lastly, Amy Poehler is always funny and quick witted. Perhaps her role in the film should have been expanded.
P.E. Trauma Tales - (12:01) – The crew, actors and others recall some horror stories and influences of physical education teachers on their lives. This segment also includes an interview with a very regimented P.E. teacher which proves to be quite interesting. This is the most entertaining of the special features.
Sneak Peak - Sneak peaks for Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, Be Kind, Rewind, Harold & Kumar 2, Rush Hour 3, Full of It, Gracie, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
With Billy Bob Thornton playing a further watered down version of the same character, Seann William Scott being passable as the straight man, Ethan Suplee spinning his wheels and Susan Sarandon being relegated to a simple naïve prop, Mr. Woodcock squanders some real talent on a pointless story and a pointless retread of films that are marginally or much better than this.
It is easy to find things to laugh at even in the most contrived comedy, but too many times during the short running time did I find myself looking at the clock or reading the DVD cover trying to keep myself engaged. I recommend that, rather than sitting through Mr. Woodcock, you go rent Bad Santa - the first and best sour, acerbic, rough-mouthed and mean spirited character that Mr. Thornton played.