Having watched the trailer you’d be forgiven for thinking this was simply a late addition to this summer’s generous helping of Hollywood slapstick comedy. Instead, the film surprises by serving up more of a meandering gentle whimsy with a subtly different take on growing pains.
The plot is fairly straight forward. John Farley (Seann William Scott), bullied as a pupil by his fearsomely strict gym teacher, the Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton) of the title, is now a household name having written a book on self-help. As a consequence, his hometown wants to honour his achievements by giving him an award. Upon his return, however, he finds his mother (Susan Sarandon) is dating his old gym teacher and sets about trying to tactfully make her see the error of her ways.
With such a straightforward set-up you’d imagine things to jolly along quite nicely but unfortunately the film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It is part-black comedy, part slapstick and part-love story. It’s further hampered by the limited acting range of Scott. His angry face comes across as indignation; his determined look has a vague umbrage about it; and his miserable face, I’m afraid, is pure resentment. [Note: For the full range please consult a thesaurus]. The poor chap has been typecast to death and when he’s given a lead role and asked to perform a whole host of emotions it’s beyond him and the film suffers as a result. To be fair, he is acting alongside Oscar nominees. One of whom, Billy Bob Thornton, has been given a completely one-dimensional character with the whole script being written around his robotic lack of feeling. This whole persona leaks into most scenes creating a sterile background off which Scott is expected to bounce. Unfortunately the duo just doesn’t manage to pull off any of the weak humour and, as a result, the film becomes a limp, tepid affair, short on jokes and long on filler.
The only reasons I can find to watch this movie is if you ever need to kill 90 minutes or you’ve already watched it a few days earlier and have forgotten the plot; and that would be understandable for it is instantly forgettable.
Commissioned by Local Secrets online magazine...