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Mr Woodcock
cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee, and Kyley Baldridge

director: Craig Gillespie

84 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Ian R. Faulkner
Now, I love a good comedy and, in general, I like Billy Bob Thornton. After all, he's an Oscar winning actor who has delivered some damn fine movies, both serious and comedic, and he's a nut (well, that is, if you believe all the gossip column hoopla). He also excels at playing strange, on-the-fringe characters. I mean who can forget the silent and possibly alien Ed Crane from The Man Who Wasn't There or, better yet, the alcoholic, criminal misanthrope Willie from Bad Santa (2003). So, put the two together and you'd have thought I'd have been as happy as the proverbial pig-in-mud. Wrong. Mr Woodcock is dire.

It deals with John Farley (Seann William Scott), author of the successful self-help bestseller, 'Letting Go: Getting Past Your Past', who has returned home to visit his widowed mom, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), in order to share the news he is to be honoured with his hometown's highest accolade, the Corn Cob Key.

However, upon his arrival back in Nebraska John unfortunately discovers Beverly has news of her own. It seems she has a new man in her life and, much to John's horror, he soon finds out his mother's new beau is none other than his old nemesis, gym teacher and inspiration for his bestseller, Jasper Woodcock (Thornton). To make matters worse, John quickly learns Woodcock, unlike himself, has not changed one little bit in all this time. He is still the sadistic, militaristic bully who seemingly delighted in humiliating, insulting and abusing the sensitive and overweight 13-year-old John (played by Kyley Baldridge).

At first John tries to come to terms with Woodcock and his mom, but, as he is forced to relive and face his past degradation anew, he rapidly thrusts aside his own positive philosophy of letting go the past and enlists the help of his old friend and fellow Woodcock hater, Nedderman (Ethan Suplee of My Name Is Earl fame), in order to prove the apple of his mom's eye is not the man Beverley (and bizarrely and unbelievably the rest of the town) thinks he is.

John and Nedderman follow Woodcock around, dig into the man's past, and even go so far as to break into his house in an attempt to find anything to undermine Jasper's hold on Beverly. Finally, in desperation, John challenges Woodcock to a corn eating contest at the local carnival, much to disgust of both Beverly and John's date, ex-high school crush Tracy (Melissa Sagemiller), and then, when this fails, vents his spleen openly at the joint award ceremony (the town are honouring Woodcock with the 'educator of the year' award as well as presenting John with the Corn Cob Key), which ultimately leads us to the film's predicable showdown and overly clichéd ending.

All very disappointing and, although Mr Woodcock does have a few chuckles hidden within it, sadly not enough to pull it above a generous, in my opinion, four-out-of-ten score. The only positive things I can say about Mr Woodcock is that it doesn't last too long and it does contain Billy Bob Thornton and Susan Sarandon, even if the plot seriously wastes both their considerable talents - Thornton especially appears to be coasting through the material, delivering a lacklustre, one dimensional performance barely above a somnambulistic shuffle.

The main problem I found with Mr Woodcock is I didn't buy any of the characters and their motivations and so didn't really give a stuff what happened to them. Jasper Woodcock is an unredeemable dick (pun intended) and even a poor mid-film attempt to engender sympathy by showing us his hateful and domineering, wheelchair bound father (played by Bill Macy) does little to change things. The man is a dick. It's obvious. It's in your face from the get go, so why are we expected to believe Farley and Nedderman are the only people over 13 who see Woodcock for what he is? I mean, Beverly thinks he's charming, Tracy thinks he's a catch, the town think he's the best thing since sliced bread and yet all we see on screen is a dick.

On top of all that, as if that's not enough, Farley's sidekick and co-conspirator, Nedderman, is an idiot and Farley himself, supposedly a calm, self-assured, self-help guru, comes over as nothing so much as a childish, Oedipal momma's boy who should grow up and follow his own advice (though in truth this impression wasn't helped by the fact I struggled to not see Seann William Scott as Stifler from American Pie). In fact, the only likable character was Maggie (Amy Poehler), Farley's irreverent, alcoholic bitch of an agent, who it seemed also got all the good lines.

In summary, rent it only if you're bored, as, whilst Mr Woodcock could have soared, it does nothing more than fall flat on its face.

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