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MR. WOODCOCK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee, Melissa Sagemiller, Amy Poehler
Director: Craig Gillespie
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: January 15, 2008

“You’re going down, Woodcock.”

“You must like getting spanked, Farley. I guess it runs in the family.”

Film **1/2

I must confess, I had no high expectations for Mr. Woodcock, mainly because I had seen the trailer advertised so many times in the theater and could pretty much predict the movie right then and there. And yet, while not a flat comedy, I did laugh a lot more than I expected to. The laughs almost save the movie, but they can’t overcome the sheer predictability of the story.

By describing the movie’s plot, or just by mentioning that Billy Bob Thornton plays the gym teacher from hell, you pretty much know what you’re in for. Thornton once again plays his trademark uptight, subtle insane character he’s perfected to this point in Bad Santa, Bad News Bears and School For Scoundrels. He’s in top form as always, as nobody but Thornton can play this kind of character more flawlessly.

Thornton plays the title character (how they were able to get away with such a name in the title alone is amazing), who is, as mentioned earlier, the gym teacher from hell to top all gym teachers from hell. In the opening scene, we see Mr. Woodcock tormenting a young class of kids. This class pays a hefty price for so much as breathing too loudly during his instructions. Woodcock’s weapon of choice is a basketball, which he uses on the kids for target practice.

The most tormented of the class was John Farley, whom Woodcock picked on and humiliated in front of the rest of the class, and was the butt of many overweight jokes. As an adult, Farley (Seann William Scott) experiences success as the most popular self-help author in America. After a book signing tour, John comes home to visit his widowed mom (Susan Sarandon) who has some surprising news; she’s dating again, and her boyfriend is…you guessed it, WOODCOCK!

What follows is expected in a comedy like this. John tries to save his mom from the devil that is Mr. Woodcock. He doesn’t want mom dating the man who he considers to be Satan. It gets even more desperate for John when mom reveals that she and Woodcock have gotten engaged.

Along with a childhood friend named Needleman (Ethan Suplee), John tries to bring forth evidence that Woodcock isn’t exactly the loving man he appears to be in front of his mom. And this results in many funny moments. I did laugh out loudly during a scene where a video recording of intended evidence against Woodcock goes horrible when mom and Woodcock walk in on the wrong segment of the video, which gets replayed over and over again unintentionally.

And the byplay between Thornton and Scott is quite hysterical at times. But all through the movie, I kept thinking of School For Scoundrels, a much funnier comedy that not only had Thornton playing a similar character, but also had an all too similar story structure; with the gruff Thornton facing off with Jon Heder in a self help class for idiots.

But Billy Bob is in such top form, and scenes like the one where Woodcock teaches a swimming class for the elderly with his trademark brutal techniques make you wish the movie surrounding it could be a lot better and more original. And the ending feels so much more like a cop out, when you can smell a much edgier ending that would perfectly close this one.

Mr. Woodcock is almost recommending for Billy Bob Thornton’s dead on performance, but if you’ve seen the other movies mentioned, especially School For Scoundrels, you needn’t really bother.

Video ****

New Line once again delivers a top-notch video job. The anamorphic picture is thoroughly clean and crisp. The flesh tones are striking and the picture is bright and lively as can be. No image flaws detected at any point, making this a terrifically sharp presentation.

Audio ***

Though more of a dialogue driven comedy, the 5.1 mix does work well in several areas. A lot of physical comedy provides many strong sounding moments, and music playback, as well as dialogue delivery is extremely well handled.

Features **

Included on this release are about thirteen minutes worth of Deleted Scenes, as well as two featurettes; “The Making of Mr. Woodcock” and “P.E. Trauma Tales”, and a Theatrical Trailer as well as bonus trailers for additional New Line releases.

Summary:

It’s a close call for me, and trust me when I say you could do a lot worse than Mr. Woodcock (the movie, not the character). Again, this comedy will work better on those who aren’t quite familiar with Billy Bob Thornton’s past comedy endeavors.

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