A cock and ball story 

There are few actors as obnoxious and yet likeable as Seann William Scott, who somehow manages to make you want to beat his face to a wet, meaty pulp with an aluminum bat while simultaneously you desire nothing more than to buy him a drink and call him your new best friend. This quality is, A) similar to the one that helps frat boys get laid regularly and, B) probably why the characters in American Pie tolerated Scott’s Stifler like audiences did. His appearance in any movie guarantees two things: It’s not going to be good, and there will probably be lots of broad, inane humor somehow derived from slurping bodily fluids or wrestling with an ostrich. This is why it was no surprise to see that his latest movie was called Mr. Woodcock. One has to imagine that producers are now letting the blond actor choose his own movie titles. Next he might star in something called Coxblocker. Oh wait, he is.

Why this long-winded assault on all things Seann William Scott? It’s what’s called ironic effect, since Scott’s Mr. Woodcock is actually a genuinely funny movie that, for once, doesn’t require him to be obnoxious and, despite his involvement, depends more on smart writing for humor than his aforementioned obnoxiousness. As the sole lead, it’s on his shoulders to make us care about his beleaguered self-help author John Farley who, upon coming home to accept a prized local award, discovers his mother (Susan Sarandon, slumming it here) is marrying his old gym coach, Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton) — the same monster who destroyed his childhood by calling him an “insult to fat, gelatinous” kids everywhere.

Scott plays this straight, and the indie-style direction from Craig Gillespie keeps his performance from spiraling out of control. It helps that Scott is acting opposite the delightfully vile Thornton. While Mr. Woodcock shows Farley’s mom loving attention and amuses her passion for his meat (apparently, he’s great with a grill), he’s a smarmy bastard who verbally abuses all those around him when she’s not around. In fact, as Farley rightly points out, Mr. Woodcock should be in jail for whipping basketballs at his students and ordering asthmatic youngsters to run laps because their wheezing annoys him. Farley refuses to let this bastard marry his mother, and so remains home – despite jeopardizing his new book’s promotional tour – to sabotage the relationship.

This is not to say that Mr. Woodcock is a great movie. It might not even be a very good movie. But it is a sincerely funny one — despite Scott’s involvement and, surprisingly enough, even because of it. You’ll laugh out loud and quote it long after it’s over, and that’s pretty much better than 90 percent of the other so-called comedies Hollywood has released this year. •

Dir. Craig Gillespie, Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert; feat.
Seann William Scott, Billy Bob Thornton, Susan Sarandon, and Amy Poehler (PG-13)


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