Mr. Woodcock
R1 - America - New Line Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (3rd February 2008).
The Film

What is it about middle school gym teachers? Is there something genetic that only makes sadistic apes want that particular job? With all of the talk these days about abuses of children in our schools - either by each other, by clergymen, or by themselves - why has no one in authority ever noticed that gym teachers have been humiliating and preying upon adolescents since the dawn of time? Conversely, the brutish gym teacher as a cinema archetype is a relatively new development, one that only goes back a few decades. But with that said, it seems impossible to portray that job description in any other manner. Is there any kind, helpful and compassionate gym teachers in either the real world, or the world of cinema? I have no empirical evidence that there are.

In "Mr. Woodcock", the 2007 comedy from director Craig Gillespie, Billy Bob Thornton plays the ultimate evil gym teacher: part drill instructor and part Marquis de Sade. The hook of the movie is that a twenty-something named John Farley (Seann William Scott) returns to his hometown to discover that his single mother is now engaged to Mr. Woodcock. Farley is mortified that the man who made his adolescence a living hell is now going to be his stepfather. Adding to his frustration is the fact that everyone in his small Nebraska hometown claims to love the self-help book that he wrote - even though they're all still complete losers. The book clearly hasn't worked. As if that wasn't enough, both Farley's mother and his (obligatory) new girlfriend are completely blind to Mr. Woodcock's extensive shortcomings, but they definitely notice every single time that John screws up.
John Farley goes on a one man mission to take Mr. Woodcock down a few pegs, a mission that backfires at every step of the way.

Thornton is funny, if one-dimensional, as Woodcock. This is a single-note character, but Thornton was born to sing that note. I can't really imagine anyone better suited for the role. Scott is suitably beleaguered as Farley, and Susan Sarandon is a good sport playing his mother. After witnessing Scott's obligatory "making an ass of himself in front of a large crowd scene" late in the film, Sarandon finally gets to emote, and then her character gets to actually do something for the last fifteen minutes of the movie. This trio of stars is supported by Amy Poehler as Farley's literary agent, and Melissa Sagemiller as 'The Girl'. Poehler's part is well-written, but she doesn't seem to get the jokes she's telling, and the performance comes off as stiff. Sagemiller's character is completely superfluous. Bill Macy shows up as well in the role of Woodcock's dad. Although he is only in one scene, it gives us a hint about how Mr. Woodcock (the younger) got to be the way he is. Although it is a funny scene, it is akin to showing us Anakin Skywalker as a little kid in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999). In other words, it spoils the mystique completely.

The film is reasonably entertaining and mildly amusing, if predictable every step of the way. After Farley beats Woodcock at his own game (physical confrontation) their relationship inexplicably and suddenly changes; apparently they understand each other or something and it all ends up nice and cozy. No.

Video

"Mr. Woodcock" is presented in the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The transfer is fine, with the short running time (1:27:30; 16 chapters) never suffering from compression artifacts. The picture has somewhat unusual color timing for a comedy, with a greenish-brownish cast over the film that resembles 1970's photos and might be better applied to a period drama.

Audio

"Mr. Woodcock" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and in Stereo. English is the only spoken language, but subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. This is a comedy, so dialogue is front and center. Music and sound effects are strictly relegated to a support positions. Want to show off your surround system? OK, now it is time to put on a "Star Wars" movie.

Extras

New Line has included 2 featurettes, some deleted scenes, the film's theatrical trailer and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

Extra features include "The Making of Mr. Woodcock" which runs for 15 minutes 30 seconds, which is the typical promotional featurette. Interview clips with the cast are inter-cut with footage from the film shoot. No big revelations here, just marketing sound bytes aplenty.

Somewhat more interesting is "Phys Ed Trauma Tales" a featurette that runs for 11 minutes 59 seconds, in which the cast and crew talk about their childhood experiences in gym class. Most of them seem to agree with the first paragraph of my film review. Some real Phys. Ed. teachers are interviewed, and some archival 1950's stock footage is cut in, providing a history of the phenomenon known as gym class.

The extras include a collection of 10 deleted scenes, these include:

- "Extended Arrival at the Airport" runs for 1 minute 40 seconds, in which Farley is greeted by the mayor.
- "Woodcock, Beverly, and John Pull up Outside" runs for 42 seconds, Woodcock kisses Farley's mother goodnight.
- "John Sees Tracy at Practice" runs for 30 seconds, Farley drives around and thinks.
- "John in Medicine Cabinet" runs for 34 seconds, Farley finds Woodcock's Viagra.
- "Flashback to Young Farley in Shower" runs for 40 seconds, Farley remembers showering as a kid in gym class.
- "John Mom Tracy and Woodcock Go on Rides" runs for 42 seconds, The cast have fun at a carnival, except Farley.
- "Tracy Tells John to Read his Book" runs for 40 seconds, Farley's girlfriend confronts him.
- "John Must Get Them Back Together" runs for 40 seconds, Farley rides a bike and talks to his friend on the phone.
- "Throwing Eggs at the Parade" runs for 1 minute 28 seconds, Farley's friends throw eggs at a parade.
- "Original Hospital Drive In" runs for 4 minutes 43 seconds, A totally different cut of the last few minutes of the film, which ends with Mr. Woodcock screwing Farley's mom in the back seat of a car, and giving Farley the finger.

Also featured is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are bonus trailers for:

- "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show" which runs for 1 minute 23 seconds.
- "Be Kind, Rewind" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Harold and Kumar 2" which runs for 59 seconds.
- "Rush Hour 3" which runs for 33 seconds.
- "Full of It" which runs for 38 seconds.
- "Gracie" which runs for 35 seconds.
- "The King of Kong" which runs for 35 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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