Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Playground bully, all grown up

By MATT ZOLLER SEITZ  /  NY Times News Service , New York

Billy Bob Thornton plays a hateful coot who dates a former student's mother.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF ARM

In Woodcock, a self-help author named John Farley (Seann William Scott) returns to his Nebraska hometown and learns that his long-widowed mother, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), is dating the title character, a coach who made John's life hell.

Woodcock, played with icy panache by Billy Bob Thornton, is a smirking bully who turns gym class into boot camp, flaunts his intimacy with John's mom and talks in hard-boiled aphorisms. ("I'm already past my past. That's why I call it my past.") Horrified, John tries to break up the affair, leading to wacky misunderstandings and much hugging and learning.

Between Thornton's wry performance and Tami Reiker's nuanced wide-screen photography, you half-expect Woodcock to deliver more than formulaic laughs. When John meets Woodcock's dad (Bill Macy) - a hateful coot - the film threatens to show that Woodcock is not just an emblem of the jock bully mentality, but also one of its damaged products.

But such an approach would complicate John's hatred of Woodcock, and the film's screenwriters, Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert, and its director, Craig Gillespie, won't have it. They instead endorse the idea that Woodcock's abuse made John a better, stronger person. It's The Great Santini remade as a sitcom.

Mr. WOODCOCK

DIRECTED BY: Craig Gillespie

STARRING:

Billy Bob Thornton (Woodcock), Seann William Scott

(John Farley), Susan Sarandon (Beverly), Amy Poehler

(Maggie), Ethan Suplee (Nedderman)

RUNNING TIME: 87 MINUTES

Taiwan Release: Today

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