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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Craig Gillespie|
scr Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert
with Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Amy Poehler, Ethan Suplee, Melissa Sagemiller, Bill Macy, Jacob Davich, Kyley Baldridge, MC Gainey, Kurt Fuller, Tyra Banks
release US 14.Sep.07,
07/US New Line 1h27
Surveying the losers: Thornton
Anyone who has ever been traumatised by a cruel gym teacher will be able to identify with the somewhat simplistic premise of this comedy. And they'll also be slightly annoyed that the filmmakers didn't take it any further than this.
As a child, John Farley (Scott) was so scarred by the degrading, merciless Coach Woodcock (Thornton) that he went on to write a bestselling self-help book about letting go of the past. Back in town to collect the key to his small Nebraska town, John is horrified to discover that his single mom Beverly (Sarandon) is now dating Woodcock. He tries to cope, but ends up on an increasingly frenetic collision course, both competing to prove his manhood and trying to show his mother what a jerk Woodcock is.
While the set-up is clever, the filmmakers draw surprisingly little comedy from it. About halfway into the story, the movie actually begins to feel more like a drama, as the laughs are limited to funny, slightly repetitive gags that punctuate a simple but serious tale of self-discovery and human interaction. Thornton is superb, but he doesn't go for broke like he did with, say, Bad Santa. Woodcock is a more textured guy--evil but not without his good qualities. We can actually see why Beverly likes him, and by introducing his even viler father (Macy), we get the bigger picture.
Meanwhile, Scott also takes a more serious route through the role of a young man who helps millions deal with their past, but can't let go of his own. This is actually one of his stronger performances, even if the character is wafer thin. Sarandon is, as always, the best thing on screen. While Poehler (as John's publicist) gets all the most hilariously rude lines.
In the end, the film is entertaining, but it's also a somewhat awkward mixture of gentle humour and wacky caper antics. The playful dialog provides the best laughter, while the big set pieces feel strangely muted, striking a balance of warmth and comedy. But the main problem is that it's never as nasty as we want it to be.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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