Billy Bob Thornton is one of my favorite actors, particularly when he's playing an unrepentant a**hole. Even when he's at his worst -- like in Bad Santa and the recent Bad News Bears remake -- there's something inherently likeable about the guy, an indefinable quality that makes his characters' most revolting flaws seem somehow forgivable. But, as we learned with School for Scoundrels, one evil Billy Bob does not a good comedy make. They still require things like, oh, I don't know, a decent script, perhaps.
Such is the case with the dreadfully unfunny Mr. Woodcock, in which Thornton plays a particularly abrasive gym teacher by the name of -- you guessed it -- Mr. Woodcock. Not such a bad concept. After all, few places embody the painful awkwardness of adolescence than middle school gym class, that brutal realm where a pubescent boy's every physical flaw is held up to the spotlight. It's the perfect stage for acerbic antics of evil Billy Bob, right?
Wrong. I knew Mr. Woodcock was doomed the minute I saw the poster (upper right). You see, good comedies don't need posters with bad visual puns to sell themselves, and Mr. Woodcock's poster eerily resembles that of License to Wed (middle right), another dreadful comedy that came and went in a flash earlier this summer amidst a barrage of negative reviews. Both posters feature their movies' three main characters arranged in a not-so-subtle reference to the human reproductive system -- female for License to Wed, male for Mr. Woodcock.
In the case of Mr. Woodcock, the metaphor is clear: Mr. Woodcock is a d*ck. To his left is Seann William Scott, who plays John Farley, a former student of Woodcock's who managed to survive the daily browbeating to become a world-renowned self-help author. To the right is Susan Sarandon, who plays John's mother Beverly. She happens to be engaged to Woodcock, which is why Seann William Scott is scowling at Thornton.
Mr. Woodcock's first ten minutes, in which evil Billy Bob viciously berates his meek pupils, are intermittently hilarious, but it's all downhill from there. I kept waiting for the moment when the movie would turn the corner, when some of the wickedly funny dark humor of Bad Santa would emerge, but it never did (probably because it's PG-13 -- darn it, why didn't I check beforehand?). The battle between Farley and Woodcock, obviously intended to be the source of most of the comedy, quickly grows stale when it becomes apparent that Scott's character is woefully uninteresting and unrelentingly bland. Gaylord Focker he ain't.
Disagree? Let me know at tleupp@Reelz.com.