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Mr. Woodcock. Does just saying that name aloud make you giggle? Then you might have the underdeveloped mental capacity necessary to truly enjoy this movie. You might also enjoy hanging out behind the building after school with mid-high students who are desperately failing at trying to insult each other and chortling over dirty slang terms for having sex. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of difference between that and watching this film.
There is a semi-sweet storyline in the midst of all the repetitive jokes and predictable setups. Inspired by his own efforts to overcome his traumatized childhood, John Farley (Sean William Scott) has written the latest cult-craze self-help book “Letting Go – Getting Past Your Past”. Most of Farley’s demons revolved around his abusive mid-high gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), a man who seems to enjoy embarrassing and belittling his students.
While on tour Farley learns that his little mid-western hometown has decided to bestow upon him its greatest honor: the Corn Cob Key (think key to the city, but with a giant ear of corn on the end). It’s handed out during the town’s annual Corn-ival, a festival full of corn-tests and corn-gratulations to the winners. Do you seem the theme there? It’s only one of several dull running jokes that the movie beats to death during the mind-numbing hour-and-a-half. Farley comes home only to discover that town has also decided to honor Mr. Woodcock, naming him Educator of the Year.
Much to Farley’s further dismay, his mother (Susan Sarandon) is engaged to Mr. Woodcock. Apparently she loves him for his meat. Of course, she’s referring to his talent for cooking steaks, but cue up another series of lame jokes repeated way too many times to be funny. Tossing all of his own self-help principles to the wind and making a complete idiot of himself along the way, Farley desperately tries to prove to his mother and the town just what a horrible person Woodcock really is.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that nearly every gag has been done in another movie before (and usually done better), every single setup is also absurdly predictable. It might have helped if Farley was the kind of guy you could rally around, but the character is too pathetic to cheer. All I could see through the whole movie was a grown-up Steve Stifler who was reprising his American Pie chore of running around complaining about the guy sleeping with his mother.
Sarandon and Thornton are no help either. It’s not entirely their fault as they both do the best with the material they’re given; but there’s the rub: the script is completely worthless. I can’t help but wonder if they were both drunk when they read it or maybe took the roles on a dare. Blackmailed maybe? I don’t care how many times Sarandon and Thornton have won or been nominated for an Oscar, there’s no excuse for wasting time on Mr. Woodcock
I’ll grant the movie this: it made me laugh once. I’m not sure if I laughed because it was the only gag I didn’t see coming from a mile away or if I was so desperate for a chuckle that I would have cracked at a knock-knock joke. If you’re willing to wait seventy minutes for a laugh or the name Mr. Woodcock alone is enough to keep your infantile sense of humor afloat, this may just be the film for you.