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Mr. Woodcock could have been sufficient as a throwaway comedy, but it seems to have no motivation to be genuinely funny. The screenwriter didn’t intend the script to be well written, for any decent writer can spot moments that don’t work, fall flat, or add nothing new to the story. We see plenty of wasted talent in front of the camera, and we’re forced to ask, Why? What happened?

Granted, the opening scene displays some promise. We are introduced to Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), a hard-as-nails gym teacher who should be fired for what he does in this first scene. Mr. Woodcock reminded me of the dad played by Dan Hedaya in Clueless, but this scene shows the difference between something well-scripted like Clueless and this movie. While Hedaya wasn’t nice, he was still likable; Mr. Woodcock is downright despicable. About twenty minutes into the movie, after we realize how inappropriately cruel he is, we lose faith.

One of Woodcock’s tortured students (Seann William Scott) grows up thirteen years later and writes a motivational book about “getting past your past.” He goes home to receive the key to the city, which is shaped like a corn cob. (Since the movie is set somewhere in the Midwest, the jokes about corn never end.) He goes to see his mom (Susan Sarandon) and sees that she is dating Mr. Woodcock! Dun-dun-dun.

The biggest abomination this movie has to offer is the waste of great talent. At what point did it become understood that any comically loathsome role must be played by Thornton? Amy Poehler is (usually) hilarious, but her character is unnecessary and says things I would be embarrassed to say even if I was getting paid to say them. Susan Sarandon: The daughter in Joe! The nun in Dead Man Walking! Louise! There is no excuse for a deserved Oscar-winner, Thornton included, to take part in something like this.

When a bad movie has bad actors and bad camera work and bad editing, it’s understandable that the movie sucks. However, when a bad movie has great actors, passable camera work, and decent editing, what’s the excuse? I don’t want to accuse the filmmakers of trying to make a bad movie, but what else could it be? Most fault lies within the writing. The movie is a comedy, yet it is shamelessly masochistic in order to get laughs. Any movie that requires someone ending up face-down on cement to tickle the audience’s funny bone is lazy. So even though Mr. Woodcock could have been an okay movie, and since it had the potential to be funny but settled for second-best, it loses points in my book.

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