review for Mr. Woodcock on AllMovie

Mr. Woodcock (2007)
by Derek Armstrong review

Among the classic structures for farce, one of the most common involves a protagonist who happens to be the only person capable of identifying the shortcomings/evil ways of his rival -- which makes the protagonist less credible to the other characters, and makes all of those characters less credible to the audience, because they're "playing dumb." Take Mr. Woodcock, for example. Billy Bob Thornton plays a gym teacher who doesn't just push his students hard; that might be justifiable in the name of fitness. No, he's a genuine SOB, regularly insulting, emasculating, and even physically harming those in his charge (all within the context of comedy, of course). It's no surprise, then, that he approaches every other aspect of his life the same way. Yet Susan Sarandon, playing the mother of our protagonist (Seann William Scott), is head over heels in love with this guy, apparently oblivious to it all -- which calls her own apparent level-headedness into question. Mr. Woodcock certainly succeeds in making us sympathize with its protagonist. But when it's this difficult to believe that the forces opposing him have any traction whatsoever, that sympathy loses some of its value. Simply put, Thornton's Woodcock is an ass, and no amount of food-eating contests, wrestling matches, or other games of one-upmanship appear to change any of the characters' essential understanding (or lack of understanding) of that fact. Hence, Craig Gillespie's movie grows quickly repetitive -- some would say redundant -- until the inevitable happy ending, in which everyone gives a little, despite not appearing to have learned anything. We in the audience can sympathize -- we haven't learned anything either.