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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Funny actors flounder with cheap jokes in flat comedy

The only funny part of “Mr. Woodcock” is its title. Other than that, the film has nothing to offer but 87 minutes of uninspired acting, lackluster dialogue and an incredibly random appearance by “daytime diva” Tyra Banks.

“Mr. Woodcock” tells the story of John Farley (Seann William Scott), the successful author of a self-help book titled “Letting Go.” Farley takes a break from his whirlwind book tour to go back to Kansas where he is awarded the coveted Corn Cob Key, a great honor in his hometown. He keeps his trip a secret in order to surprise his mother Beverly (Susan Sarandon), but the reunion turns sour when Farley learns his mom is dating Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). Woodcock was Farley’s gym teacher in elementary school, and Farley still hasn’t forgiven him for making his life a living hell.

The film is pretty predictable from this point on: Farley comes up with a series of zany schemes to break Beverly and Woodcock apart but ultimately realizes his mother’s happiness is more important than settling a personal grudge. In the end, everyone learns valuable life lessons.

Scott’s sub-par performance leads audiences to wonder: Is this really the guy who made us laugh in “American Pie?” Aside from occasional witty retorts or amusing facial expressions, he does very little to make this tired plot more amusing. On the plus side, his scenes with Maggie Hoffman (Amy Poehler) are always good for a laugh. As Farley’s self-aware alcoholic tour manager, Poehler’s character is one of the film’s few highlights.

Drier than a piece of burnt toast and twice as unpleasant, Thornton’s Woodcock is the most boring character to hit the big screen since Ben Stein played that economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Woodcock is meant to appear mean and stony faced, but Thornton more or less just comes across looking unenthusiastic. Many of the mean-spirited comments he makes under his breath are lost to excessive mumbling.

Sarandon’s character is also surprisingly confusing. When audiences are first introduced to Beverly, she is a simple-minded but loving single mother. Halfway through the film, however, she does a complete turnaround and comes off as a bitter widow, angry at her son for never liking the men she brings home. This transformation would be perfectly acceptable if Beverly stuck to her new persona, but by the end of the film she’s back to being silly, with a poofy pink prom dress to complete the look.

In the actors’ defense, they aren’t given very much to work with. Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert are both brand-new writers and their product is weak to say the least. The jokes are mostly slapstick — it’s impossible to measure how many times Woodcock hits a child in the head or groin — and the few serious moments feel incredibly awkward. For a cheap laugh, Carnes and Gilbert also throw in a slew of random one-liners, like when Woodcock’s senile father exclaims, “Water sports is for sissies and sodomites!”

“Mr. Woodcock” is one of those films that makes you so angry you’ll want to leave your garbage in the theater. The film’s only redeeming quality is the entertaining array of previews shown beforehand. Seriously, “Harold & Kumar 2” looks hilarious.

“Mr. Woodcock” was written by Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert and directed by Craig Gillespie.

It received one out of four stars.