Plot: John Farley (Seann William Scott) is a self-help author who comes back home to discover his mom (Susan Sarandon) is dating his old nemesis, the gym teacher Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). John sets out to make sure his mom knows what an awful man he is, even if he has to go against the words of his best-selling book.
Who’s it for: If you like the dark comedies of Billy Bob Thornton (“Bad Santa,” “School for Scoundrels,” “Bad News Bears,” “Bad Santa”), you might as well see this one also.
Expectations: This has been completed for years, just not released by the studio. This ALWAYS spells trouble for a film, so I didn’t get my hopes up.
Billy Bob Thornton as Mr. Woodcock: It’s a great name, and Thornton has proved he can turn on the slime and make it charming. The problem here is that he really does seem to be evil toward children. The film never attempts to make Mr. Woodcock realize that nailing a kid in the head is mean … even though it’s still funny.
Seann William Scott as John Farley: Scott has evolved from Stifler days, but not by much. I still think his best role is “The Rundown” where he could be funny and do some bumbling action. Here, he’s just not good at being sincere.
Susan Sarandon as Beverly Farley: If you’re a huge Sarandon fan, you’ll be happy with how she looks. Still, even though her role in “In the Valley of Elah” is much smaller, it’s much better.
Talking: In the beginning, some of the lines are pretty funny, such as John talking about a “blame sandwich,” and how knowing the capital of Montana can get you in trouble, but there really aren’t jokes in the second half.
Sights and sounds: There are some odd, forced slapstick moments such as John plowing into a stack of free-weights that should kill the man or at least put him in the hospital. And because the timing is off, that’s all you’ll think about.
It’s always death for me when a film starts off strong and then starts to fizzle. That’s exactly what “Mr. Woodcock” does. Billy Bob Thornton is the perfect, cruel gym teacher, and you can see those memories would torture any former student. But as soon as John tries to dig up dirt on Mr. Woodcock, it falls flat and then we’re stuck with Amy Poehler telling us she’s an alcoholic and an unaware Susan Sarandon watching two men act like idiots, which unfortunately isn’t funny at all. The first half of this film gets a “B,” the second gets a “D,” so …
Overall Grade: 5