When it was first announced in the trades, Mr. Woodcock had
the undeniable ring of truth on its side. After all, if one couldn’t
directly relate to being tormented by a school gym teacher, then
certainly there were memories of another kid — some pudgy,
huffing, out-of-shape wallflower — serving as the constant whipping
post of a cruelly hyper-vigilant instructor. The movie’s pairing, too,
seemed an inspired one, with Billy Bob Thornton playing the titular
unrepentant jackass and Seann William Scott starring as the now-adult
object of his psychological persecution, a self-help author who returns
to his small, Midwestern hometown to find his mom dating his former
nemesis. Sadly, a post-mortem reveals nothing to the distracted,
scattershot-vision Mr. Woodcock but shattered hopes and expectations, and lots of uncomfortable silences. This just isn’t a very funny movie.
Though its faults don’t really lie with him, Mr. Woodcock is still most interesting when viewed through the prism of Thornton’s career. Despite possessing a genuine chameleonic quality (see The Man Who Wasn’t There, in addition to Sling Blade),
Thornton frequently finds a way to make parts bend more naturally to
him without it coming off as crass or lazy. Five times married and five
times divorced, he wears his troubles, mania and insecurities (like his
genuine, perhaps only slightly overstated phobia of antique furniture,
let’s say) on his sleeve, and this somehow makes him more endearing.
It’s interesting, then, that Thornton would become embraced for playing
assertive, caustic types, when in reality he’s so little like that.
1999’s Pushing Tin actually presaged greater successes to come, because
it showcased so nicely the playful naughtiness of Thornton’s
hollow-cheeked, arch-browed deviousness. Films following clearly in
that vein were the mid-sized, foul-mouthed cult hit Bad Santa, and subsequent remakes of Bad News Bears and School for Scoundrels, though each was rightly judged by the marketplace, and grossed less than its predecessor.
Mr. Woodcock, unfortunately, continues that downward qualitative
trend, and will likely do the same at the box office after lethal
A troubled production that saw original director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) booted, and Wedding Crashers
helmer David Dobkins come in for re-shoots (he takes a producer’s
credit on the final product), Mr. Woodcock is a mish-mashed affair that
never cultivates a cogent comedic point-of-view. Is the movie essentially about Scott’s character, John Farley, and his inner demons, however
colorful and writ large? Is it a crude, enthusiastically broad
slapstick comedy, as the poster and some TV advertisements would
suggest? Or is it a combative story of masculine competition, with a
young buck rising to physically take on and figuratively slay the
twisted inspiration of his personal makeover? In servicing each of
these strands in elementary, hopscotch fashion, no satisfying depth is
developed. Woodcock’s SOB father (Bill Macy) is trotted out but left
mostly unexplored as the root cause of his son’s bitterness, while Amy Poehler — as John’s voluble, alcoholic
literary agent — is left to amuse only herself. Abandoned as he is here by the material, meanwhile, one has to wonder if it isn’t
time for Thornton to hang up the high-beam glare and snappish guise for
a while. An extended layover might further whet audience appetites, making a bitter screen return eight or 10 years hence even sweeter. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here.