For half of the last decade, Billy Bob Thornton
has been filling the scumbag/jerk quotient to dwindling effect, culminating in last year's abysmal School for Scoundrels. One half-expected him to try and nab a role in a Catherine Breillat film just to get the taste out of his mouth. It seems this was all wishful thinking: Thornton's latest retread into berating fat kids, retards, and asthma victims, Mr. Woodcock, is at once both completely aimless and without the slightest sense of fun.
Pushed back and up for almost a year now, Woodcock comes from a lineage of productions so misguided that studios eventually release them just to wash their hands of them. Originally slated for a late spring/early summer release, the film was tossed back to November to allow for re-shoots and new edits. Ultimately none of it mattered and they pushed it back up to September. The fact that Wedding Crashers ace David Dobkin was brought in for the aforementioned re-shoots makes the absence of even the lightest chuckle even more profound. Article continues below
Thornton plays the titular gym coach who gets his jollies from pegging kids with a carefully selected basketball before bemoaning their physical abilities. One such child, the plumpest of the lot, is little John Farley, who is relegated to stand Woodcock's indignations while in his tighty-whities. Farley (now Seann William Scott
) grows up to be a self-help guru with an agent (Amy Poehler
) who acts like Cerberus guarding the gates of hell around her client. When news comes that his hometown is bestowing the Corn Cob Key to the City on him, Farley gears up to fly home and see his mom (Susan Sarandon
). Not a minute passes between his reunion with his mother and his mother introducing him to her fiancée: Mr. Woodcock.
What follows is an oedipal tug of war between John and Woodcock, the majority of which finds Woodcock schooling the self-help pansy. Farley collects an old friend (Ethan Suplee
) to help him find ways to oust his stepfather-to-be as a demon in a track suit. But every gag rails on like an infuriating metronome trying every way imagineable to pry a laugh out of your chest. If it's not Woodcock's "rhetorical question" shtick, it’s the preposterously unfunny "Woodcock's nailing your mom?" line, used ad nauseum.
Thornton's scumbag-with-a-point characters have been commendable because they work well within the confines given. As this cantankerous coach, Thornton seems to have drifted into a trance, unable to find the glee in being a bastard. As for Sarandon and Scott, it's evident they're just in it for the check. The bigger problem: Director Craig Gillespie
, who shows immense promise in the upcoming Lars and the Real Girl, goes 180 here and demonstrates an utter incapability with comedic structure and timing. Stuck inside a script by first-timers Josh Gilbert and Michael Carnes, Thornton feels like he's been put on a leash and his boredom is palpable. Even the audience can feel it.