I hate to see genuinely talented performers waste their efforts in paycheck comedies. Remember Sean William Scott's bitingly funny debut as Stifler in 'American Pie?' Remember Billy Bob Thornton's sharp portrayal of Russell in 'Pushing Tin?' Well forget those finer films and set your expectations as low as they'll go. 'Mr. Woodcock' is a cracker-thin comedy whose biggest laugh is laced in the sophomoric, double entendre title card.
John Farley (Sean William Scott) is a successful young motivational speaker and author who returns home after learning that his mother Beverly (Susan Sarandon) is getting married. To John’s horror, the man his mother intends to marry is one Jasper Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton) -- the inhuman gym teacher who senselessly humiliated and tormented John when he was a boy. Determined to save his mother from a life with his most hated enemy (while exacting a little personal revenge), John sets out to stop the wedding by any means necessary.
Despite its strong cast, 'Mr. Woodcock' suffers from a repetitive and uncomfortable series of "humorous" vignettes that feel like a poor man's retread of 'Meet the Parents.' John is berated, flung from a treadmill, nearly drowns in the pool at an old folks home, and wrestles with... sigh. I could go on, but what's the point? Basically, John attempts to embarrass Mr. Woodcock at every turn, but only ends up looking foolish himself. This feeble attempt at formulaic comedy never elicited anything more significant than random chuckles from me -- and those were mostly unintentional laughs at the filmmakers’ expense.
While I adore dark comedies, 'Mr. Woodcock' is a soulless entry in the genre, one that fails to make the characters sympathetic. Sean William Scott abandons nuance and relatable emotion in favor of slapstick bitterness. His character essentially tries to become a monster to defeat a monster, a pursuit that is neither charming nor attractive. The film’s only standout scenes involve comedians Amy Poehler and Ethan Suplee -- while the script remains excruciatingly weak, the two at least inject some effort and bemusement into their roles.
In the end, 'Mr. Woodcock' is better than recent bad-taste comedies like 'Good Luck Chuck,' but not by much. Folks who enjoyed cynical Thorton flicks like ‘Bad Santa' may find minor enjoyment here, but I imagine most people will wonder why they wasted their time.
Comedies are generally presented with vivid palettes and sugary colors. 'Mr. Woodcock' takes a different route, with a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that washes out primaries and gives the film a retro-70s vibe akin to 'Superbad.' The look certainly adds to the tone, and the transfer renders the colors with steadiness and stability. Black levels are fairly deep and never suffer from crushing or blockiness. Detail is substantially improved over the standard DVD as well.
I caught a bit of artifacting in some of the gymnasium scenes (watch the hardwood floors), there were a few scenes in which contrast wavered, and a handful of shots looked a hair softer than most others in the film. Still, 'Mr. Woodcock' boasts a strong transfer that does a nice job replicating the theatrical experience.
'Mr. Woodcock' features a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, and while I certainly won’t complain about the inclusion of any high-end audio, the 7.1 setup delivered an only slightly improved sense of environmental acoustics. I doubt a 5.1 DTS-HD track would've sounded much different, if at all.
Regardless, the track is quite good, rendering every sound within the film's sparse soundscape with ease. Dialogue is crisp, the subwoofer steps up here and there, and the rear speakers are engaging during the handful of instances that they're used to full effect. Unfortunately, the film is largely packed with conversations, so there aren't many scenes that allow the DTS-HD track to strut its stuff. The most significant wow moments center around dribbling basketballs in Mr. Woodcock's gymnasium and sloshing water in a pool at a retirement home. All in all, there aren't any technical distractions, but this track is unremarkable.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Mr. Woodcock' includes high definition presentations of all of the meager supplements from the standard DVD.
'Mr. Woodcock' is an empty dark comedy, one that never reaches the heights of more successful films in the genre. It may feature a tempting cast, but the weak script never matches their talents. Sadly, the Blu-ray edition offers a mixed bag of highs and lows as well, including a fairly dry audio track and an anemic collection of supplements. The video transfer is the lone standout aspect of this release. Still, I doubt many people will fall in love with this one -- skip it and spend your time watching more clever material.