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Mr. Woodcock

New Line // PG-13 // January 15, 2008
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
You probably don't need a recap of the plot for Mr. Woodcock, seeing as how the same exact trailer was making the rounds for...what, a year and a half straight? Still, I'm kind of obligated to write one, so here goes...

Remember Just Friends? Y'know, the flick where Ryan Reynolds plays a successful music mogul who trots back home for a class reunion, only to be continually reminded what a bloated, dumpy loser he used to be? Take that same exact plot, only now it's Seann William Scott as John Farley, an author shilling an inhumanly successful self-help book about overcoming the traumas of the past to become a better you. The badnik this time around is Billy Bob Thornton, warming over the same crotchety bastard role from Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, School for Scoundrels, and...oh, let's go with just about every other movie he's made over the past five years.

Mr. Woodcock (good ol' Billy Bob) tormented all of his students in gym class, but the chubby, awkward Farley really got it the worst. Still, John left all that humiliation behind thirteen long years ago, and he's since settled into the role of a Dr. Phil-esque guru in the national spotlight, taking a timeout from a whirlwind book tour just long enough to visit with Mom and pick up his sleepy little Nebraskan hometown's Corn Cob Key award. John's bubbly mother (Susan Sarandon) has her own news to share -- she's finally met a fella, and things have been going really well with them for going on five months now. You've seen the trailer, so you already know the big reveal. Yup, the gym teacher who made John's adolescence such a living hell is now screwing his mom. Not only is she oblivious to what a prick Woodcock is, but everyone in town loves the guy. Brushing off his booze-swilling publicist (Amy Poehler) and teaming up with another tortured classmate (Ethan Suplee), John tosses out every last rule that he preached in his book and devolves back into that same inconfident trainwreck on his way to keeping any wedding bells from clanging.

There are about as many laughs in Mr. Woodcock as there are original, inspired ideas, which is kind of a snarky, roundabout way of saying "none". The humor's pretty lazy across the board, milking as much as it can out of John's squirming discomfort at the idea of his mom being pounded by anyone, let alone Mr. Woodcock. And...y'know, the title kinda says it all as far as the movie's sparkling wit goes. Ethan Suplee's dimwitted wannabe-poolman caught on tape pretending to motorboat John's mom, a couple hundred corn-centric puns, Amy Poehler picking up a cell phone and doing the whole faux-"you're SKKZKZKZK breaking up" routine, poking fun at self-help books -- somewhere down there with airline food and Pamela Anderson as the easiest target ever -- with quips like "When you make a blame sandwich, you gotta be prepared to eat it yourself"...just not a single laugh, chuckle, smile, or whatever else in there anywhere.

It's not just Mr. Woodcock's sense of humor that falls flat. The whole thing is just stale and overly familiar, down to giving John a chance to hit it off with his old crush (Melissa Sagemiller) just so she can be disgusted by his irrational oneupsmanship of Mr. Woodcock before pretty much disappearing for the rest of the movie. Its anemic stabs at understanding and being sweetly sentimental reminded me just how much better Freaks and Geeks tackled just about the exact same basic premise -- domineering gym teacher, widowed MILF, and all.

Billy Bob Thornton is a hell of an actor, and it's a drag to see him continually recycle this same exact stodgy, jackass authority-figure role again and again. At least he had some depth in Bad Santa, but Mr. Woodcock is a frowning, one-dimensional prick for all but a couple minutes of the movie's barely-feature-length runtime. The only particularly clever thing that's done with his character is that John was so thoroughly traumatized by his days in gym, but Mr. Woodcock doesn't even remember the kid. Seann William Scott fares better when he's cast as a manic, unlikeable dick, but he's just kinda bland here. The only of the three top-billed actors that manages to leave much of an impression is Susan Sarandon, practically glowing as the one and only character in the movie that's sincerely happy at any point.

I don't have a problem with dumb comedies as long as there are a couple of laughs in there somewhere, but Mr. Woodcock's clumsy sense of humor flops and flounders for every frame of its seventywhatever minute runtime. What's really depressing is that the movie was originally slated to come out more than a year earlier, and despite suffering through endless delays, extensive reshoots, and different directors trying to salvage something out of it, this is still the best that New Line was able to do. Skip It.

Video: Mr. Woodcock looks awfully drab in high definition, and it might be one of the most lackluster day-and-date releases I've seen so far on Blu-ray. Even the weakest high-def transfers will usually sneak in a "wow!" or two, but there weren't any particularly striking moments like that this time around. The palette is unusually dull and dingy, and even though it's spelled out in the extras that this is intentional, it just looks like the entire movie was shot on bleak, overcast afternoons. Although there aren't any flecks of dust or compression hiccups anywhere throughout this VC-1 encode, the 2.39:1 image as a whole really just isn't that sharp or detailed. I'm sure Mr. Woodcock looks a heckuva lot better on Blu-ray than it does on DVD, but this still isn't exactly a strong showing by New Line.

Audio: New Line hammered out a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track for Mr. Woodcock, and kinda continuing with the constant oneupsmanship in the movie, they've even tacked on a couple more channels than usual. Yup, this is a 7.1 soundtrack. Like most comedies, Mr. Woodcock still roots most of the action across the front speakers, although the rears do roar to life in the gym and during the hustle-'n-bustle of the Cornival. The barrage of takedowns during the wrestling brawls and Woodcock explaining just what a basketball is in the first couple minutes of the movie are also accompanied by a colossal amount of bass. I mean, I gave Mr. Woodcock a spin an hour or two after watching Cloverfield, and Woodcock's opening dribble had about as titanic a low-end as a twenty story monster trashing Manhattan. Sure, the sound design throughout the rest of the movie is kinda bland by comparison, but those few scenes do leave Mr. Woodcock sounding better than average.

...and here's something I'm not used to seeing: the DTS-HD MA track is it as far as audio options go. No downmixes. No other codecs. No dubs. There are subtitles in English (SDH) and French, tho'.

Extras: Mr. Woodcock doesn't pile on a lot of extras, but every last one of 'em is in high definition.

If New Line couldn't find anything remotely funny to shove into the movie itself, it kinda follows that the stuff that wasn't good enough to make it into the final cut is a comedic black hole too. No, the reel of ten deleted and alternate scenes -- running thirteen minutes in total -- doesn't manage to get much of a laugh either. A much longer take on the ending, John stumbling onto a bottle of Viagra in the medicine cabinet, puking on the Tilt-a-Whirl, a nasty flashback to being humiliated while hitting the showers in junior's all pretty forgettable.

"The Making of Mr. Woodcock" (15 min.) strings together the usual lightweight interviews with the cast and crew fawning over how indescribably wonderful everyone and everything is in between a couple of behind-the-scenes shots. These making-of pieces are pretty much always a waste of time, although a couple of interesting notes do manage to creep in, like Billy Bob taking some cues from growing up as the son of a basketball coach and some of the movie's wrestling moves being tackled by pint-sized, second-generation stuntmenkids. Billy Bob saying with complete sincerity that he won't touch a role unless it's part of a great script got a bigger laugh out of me than anything in the movie itself.

"P.E. Trauma Tales" gives the cast and crew a chance to rant for right at twelve minutes straight about being tortured in gym. Terry Sobel -- a stickler for routine who's taught P.E. since 1969 -- chimes in with his not-altogether Woodcockian approach to the whole thing. Sprinkled throughout the featurette are excerpts from oodles of old educational films.

That theatrical trailer you've seen a couple hundred thousand times now rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: Just another lifeless, laughless, uninspired comedy with a double-underlined moral message. Mr. Woodcock looks surprisingly bland in high definition too, although the movie does sound better than average for a comedy, and its handful of extras are all in high-def. Still...Skip It.

The images scattered around this review are promotional stills and aren't meant to represent the way the movie looks in high definition.
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