I know a few people on the inside — midlevel Hollywood types, who offered up this skinny on condition of strict anonymity. They told me that they were actually in on the pitch for Billy Bob Thornton’s latest passive-aggressive hostility vehicle. They said the writers, a couple of young go-getters by the names of Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert, walked into the offices of New Line Cinema, sat down with the studio exec, and began their spiel, only to be cut off almost immediately. They passed along the minutes from the meeting.
Studio Executive: You said ‘Woodcock’? Hmmm. Woodcock. Wood. Cock … Woodycock. Is that like, er, a stiff erection?
Carnes: Yeah, he’s this coach who …
Studio Exec: That’s funny, boy. A stiffie. The old morning glory, huh? Tall Tommy and the Testes. The slippery love bone. The purple-headed yogurt slinger! Whoo-boy! I had a might powerful robot-chubby on the way to work this morning. I drove with no hands, if you know what I’m sayin’. Shaved my face, read the paper, slapped a nun, and still got here in record time. You boys have a great goddamn sense of humor. I like it. Hell, I love it. Let me make a few phone calls and we’ll have this thing in production by the middle of next week. You know what’d be extra funny — if you work in a Corn Cob Queen. Whaddya think of that?
Carnes & Gilbert: ….
Studio Exec: Yeah. Funny stuff, right. That’s why they pay me the big bucks. Make it happen, all right? Woodcock meets the Corn Cob Queen. Iloveit. Good stuff, kids. I gotta run. Gotta drop a deuce. Need to get there before Bobby down the hall. That sorry son of a bitch always takes the sports section. Man. Wood Cock. Funny fucking stuff. I’ll write you a check for $50 million. We’ll get that kid from American Pie. Stifler. He knows a thing or two about wood cocks. I’m outta here. Feel a shart coming on. Peckerwood. Genius!
And that, in a nutshell, was how Mr. Woodcock got made: An executive with IBS overcompensating for his erectile dysfunction greenlit it before reading the rest of the script. Another goddamn one-joke movie, like the recent Balls of Fury, that mines yet another phallic connotation by inserting the one joke into the movie’s name, which makes both Mr. Woodcock and Fury the easiest titles to exploit for porn since Free Willy.
Not that the high-school coach isn’t a fine stereotype ripe for comedy, see e.g., “Freaks and Geeks,” “The Wonder Years,” and even “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (for the pedophiliac version), but perhaps not one that can be stretched out for a full 90-minutes, especially since Billy Bob Thornton has already abused and overextended his quota on salty, misanthropic assholes (hilarious in Bad Santa, but the shtick lacks teeth when deprived of an R-Rating — see, School of Scoundrels, Bad News Bears and now this PG-13 disasterbacle). Granted, Thornton isn’t really what’s wrong with Mr. Woodcock. Hell, it’s not even that bad a concept — I’ve been taking out my anger on Coach R. for the last 15 years. I mean, Jesus: Just because you have an epiglottis-sized penis, Coach, doesn’t mean you can mistreat your students; not all of us lost 100 pounds the easy way, by contracting pneumonia, you anthropomorphic queef. And why were you so intent on everyone taking a shower afterwards, anyway? You have some sort of concavity predilection? Might explain why you always referred to the boys in your class as “ladies,” huh?
Where was I? Oh, yeah: Really, the problem with Mr. Woodcock is everything but Mr. Thornton (and Susan Sarandon): The direction, the terrible script, and Sean William Scott, who couldn’t act his way out of a flaming, excrement-filled paper bag if he was given a water hose and road map. How the hell do you root for a protagonist that’s so goddamn antagonizing? You got Stifler playing a self-help guru? Can you imagine anything more obnoxious?
And, indeed, there’s not a thing you can’t learn about the story from the trailer for Mr. Woodcock (which manages to pack all four jokes into a 30-second spot), but here it is, anyway: John Farley (Scott), who was maltreated by his junior-high phys ed teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Thornton), takes all that animosity as an adult and turns it into a huge-selling self-help book called, Let It Go. When he returns home, however, to receive the key to the city at the annual Cornival, he learns that his mother (Sarandon) — a former Corn Cob Queen — is dating his old coach. So, Farley sticks around and tries to break up their engagement, making himself look like a human wedgie all the while. Spectacular anti-comedy ensues.
Thornton does the best he can with what little he has to work with, coasting along on Bad Santa’s fumes, while Susan Sarandon manages, ever-so-slightly, to freshen up the movie. God bless her for not giving in to the plastic surgery Bogeyman most of the women her age have, and she looks all the more radiant for it. She and Diane Keaton should get together and teach a few of the starletards some lessons in longevity, perhaps by dropping Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton off of a very long building.
Despite the talents of Sarandon and Thornton, however, Mr. Woodcock has no place to go. It’s not just that it’s a formulaic movie — a decent director and a couple of writers with more than a combined seven brain cells can splice a few warmed-over jokes together and come up with something better than this. Unfortunately, between Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert and the studio executive who put this movie into production, there’s only a single brain cell between them and apparently none of the three bothered to use it.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Mr. Woodcock / Dustin Rowles
Film | September 14, 2007 | Comments ()