Mr. Woodcock is one of those painful missed opportunities where two really funny people are in a really funny premise but the filmmakers just don't know what to do with them. I'll give them three big laughs, but those were just flukes.
Mr. Woodcock Review
Billy Bob Thornton playing an A-hole is established comedy gold. The opening scene where Woodcock mistreats the kids is classic, one of the aforementioned three. Sean William Scott is a funny guy but making him a self help guru is already iffy. Then they don't give him any clever methods for trying to thwart his former coach's romance with his mom, so the whole movie is a non joke.
Once everyone is grown up, Mr. Woodcock's rudeness isn't all that funny. He's just being unsocial. Being blatantly insensitive to kids with life threatening conditions is comedy. Insulting someone's financial situation is just unpleasant but not entertaining.
One of the problems is that Mr. Woodcock is believable. He could be a real coach in the extreme. The self help guy never seems real. Self help is a pretty wide field in which to be funny and still believable, but the script never gives Scott anything clever to say.
Poor Seann William Scott. He's so talented and acts his heart out, and they just give him second rate scripts. His plan is either to talk it out with Woodcock, or compete with him. Well, if we're buying the premise that Woodcock's nature is a threat, then we don't really want to see him beat him at his own games. And they aren't his own games. They're carnival Midway games that are irrelevant anyway.
When he gets in trouble, it's not like you can't believe his brilliant plans backfired. These pathetic schemes could only embarrass him. The "secrets" he uncovers about Woodcock are obviously going to backfire. You can tell because everyone describes Woodcock's life in vague ways.
Many of the "comedy" bits are just bad sitcom situations, like oh, it's so unfortunate that he walked in the room right at this moment. There are a lot of physical gags too, but why? This is a comedy about an uncomfortable family situation. Don't sell it out for pratfalls.
The sex scene would be outrageous in a better context. I'll give them that one. And Ethan Suplee's accidental monologue on video is great, even though The Todd does it better.
Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon is playing the heartwarming family drama. She is totally believable and you want this single mother to be happy. You also kind of want her to be funny. Weird how they didn't figure that out.
There's a point where it seems like they could play the movie like Woodcock really is a subversive hero pushing kids to achieve. It won't go that far though. Scott kind of goes dark, but it's a wussy kind of dark because the film won't let this be edgy. It's got to please everyone, so no humor that actually has something to say.
The film is more concerned with the plot than the jokes. Where did this myth of "story first" come from. It's great if you can have it all, but if you can't, a comedy is supposed to be funny. Action movies are supposed to be thrilling. They certainly don't all need brilliant plots. Neither did some of the greatest comedies, a title Mr. Woodcock will never attain.