“Mr. Woodcock’s” humor nothing to impressive

by Joshua KullaStaff Writer

From director Craig Gillespie, “Mr. Woodcock” is a 87 minutes of undemanding comedy and poorly-used, big-name stars. This film is Gillespie’s first venture into major Hollywood film-making, and sets a contrasting precedent to his next work, “Lars and the Real Girl,” which is slated for release in October.

“Mr. Woodcock” employs the raunchy humor and physical comedy typical of star Seann William Scott, who comprises the role of the film’s frequently awkward protagonist, John Farley. Scott bloomed into stardom by the role of Stifler, the lame-brained, nymphomaniac side-kick in the “American” Pie series.

John Farley manages to best Stifler by no more than a few I.Q. points, despite the character’s success as a popular self-help author. Farley is agitated into encouraging his readers to let go of their damaged pasts, having suffered the torments of his childhood P.E. teacher, Jasper Woodcock, played by the versatile Billy Bob Thornton. Viewers may detect strong hints of one of Thornton’s previous roles in the self-righteous sadism of Mr. Woodcock-Dr. “P”, the self-help guru from the film School for Scoundrels.

What’s worse than having troubled and embarrassing gym class memories, for Farley, is coming to deal with an unexpected and very close-to-home reunion with his old nemesis on a visit to his hometown in Nebraska. Farley breaks from his book-signing tour to pay a visit to the old digs (much to the displeasure of his agent, a minor role filled by Amy Poehler of SNL fame), where the vast honor of the town’s “Corn Cob Key” awaits him, along with news that his widowed-mother, played by Susan Sarandon, has a new man in her life-Mr. Woodcock.

If matters at home weren’t already tense enough for Farley, Woodcock is shameless and deviously subtle in near-constant sexual suggestions toward his former pupil’s mother. This, along with the fact that Woodcock is around at all, drives Farley toward a misadventure to rid his mother, and himself, of the unpolished wit and nettling of the brutally blunt gym teacher.

This film relies primarily on a cast of popular actors and phallic references to keep it from sliding into outright stupidity. While it isn’t a movie to see if one is looking for thought-provoking dialogue and complex humor, it is almost insultingly predictable by the time viewers have had a chance to get used to the main characters.

For some, the not-so-sentimental depictions of P.E. horror will send a locker room-scented chill up the spine, while for others, the fact that the word “cock” is in the title will be enough to enchant. It is a laugh that will likely leave even the least analytical viewers ready to belt another out, but finding no material with which to do so.

“Mr. Woodcock” does a very unfortunate job of flexing what star power it has on-hand. Character quality is almost completely centralized in Thornton’s role, proving that either he is the only reason to see the film or that Gillespie simply does not know how to use Sarandon when he has her. This reviewer approached the film with little hope of finding a lot to say for Scott, and left it feeling as if Stifler had been given a suit and forced across-genre into a mismatched role. In addition to the film experience of Sarandon, the dry, comedic brilliance of Amy Poehler is perhaps the most misused asset of all.