Two Comedies from New Line
Though sprinkled with a few genuinely funny moments here and there, Mr. Woodcock ultimately comes off as a tedious and hackneyed effort that surely (and hopefully) marks Billy Bob Thornton's final appearance as a comedically misanthropic curmudgeon (following Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, and School for Scoundrels). This story follows self-help author John Farley (Seann William Scott) as he horrifyingly discovers that his mother (Susan Sarandon) is dating the feared gym teacher (Thornton's Mr. Woodcock) of his youth, with the bulk of the movie revolving around Farley's efforts at breaking the pair up. Even if one were willing to overlook the seriously illogical premise at the film's core - ie why would Farley's mom, portrayed as sweet and kind, continue to date a man who isn't even trying to hide the fact that he's a jerk? - one would still have to contend with the almost uniformly hackneyed plot developments offered up by scripters Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert. The pair spend the majority of the film's running time proffering an exceedingly tired storyline in which Scott's John must convince others of his castigator's villainy, although - of course - nobody believes him until the third act. That Carnes and Gilbert eventually turn the whole thing around by forcing John to fight for his mother and Mr. Woodcock's crumbling relationship is nothing short of absurd, and - though the performances are all fine and the movie is mercifully short - Mr. Woodcock is generally as ineffectual and instantly forgettable as most of Thornton's comedic output as of late.
Impossible as it may seem, Semi-Pro actually fares worse than star Will Ferrell's prior stabs at sports-themed comedies - which, given the presence of such underwhelming efforts as Kicking & Screaming and Blades of Glory within his filmography, is certainly no small feat. Director Kent Alterman - working from Scot Armstrong's hopelessly meandering screenplay - has infused the proceedings with a limp, almost perfunctory vibe that's exacerbated by the almost total lack of laughs, and there does reach a point at which one can't help but shake their head at the relentless needlessness of it all. Set in the mid-'70s, Semi-Pro casts Ferrell as Jackie Moon - a flamboyant basketball-team owner/player who is forced to whip his colleagues into shape after learning that his organization is due to be shut down at the end of the season. It's worth noting that the film works neither as a raucous Ferrell comedy nor as an inspirational ragtag-team-makes-good sports drama, as the free-wheeling (yet wholly uneventful) structure effectively prevents the viewer from entirely connecting with the material (this is despite some fine work from a uniformly game cast, including Woody Harrelson, Will Arnett, and Andy Richter). The dreary visuals and erratic pacing only compound the movie's various problems, and - overlooking an expectedly entertaining cameo from Tim Meadows - Semi-Pro is devoid of positive attributes to such an extent that it's ultimately difficult to imagine even the most hardcore Ferrell fan walking away satisfied.