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Originally published September 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 27, 2007 at 11:53 AM

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Movie review

Even a slam-dunk cast can't turn this into a winner

Billy Bob Thornton, "Bad Santa" himself, plays a high-school gym teacher from hell in "Mr. Woodcock. " Susan Sarandon is the 50-ish woman...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

"Mr. Woodcock," with Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon. Directed by Craig Gillespie, from a screenplay by Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert. 85 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, subject matter. Several theaters.

Billy Bob Thornton, "Bad Santa" himself, plays a high-school gym teacher from hell in "Mr. Woodcock." Susan Sarandon is the 50-ish woman who warms to him. Seann William Scott is her grown-up son, who can't believe his mother is dating the sadist who long ago humiliated him.

This may sound like a casting dream, but the movie is so erratic, it can never quite fulfill its promise as comedy or drama. While individual scenes are sharp and some of the sight gags pay off, the actors struggle to find consistency in the characters.

Sarandon comes off best, partly because her role gradually expands to include a touching monologue in which she registers a lifetime wasted in misunderstandings and frustration. There's considerably more to this woman than meets the eye; she's awfully good at hiding her best qualities.

It's no stretch for Thornton to play this kind of drill sergeant; he gives exactly the performance you'd expect, with minimal surprises. Scott's character, a self-help writer who sometimes appears to be starring in his own version of "You Can't Go Home Again," is less coherent.

Making the most of her supporting role as Scott's agent, Amy Poehler gets the best lines. They have the snarky snap of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." Did she write them herself?

While two novice screenwriters are officially credited with the script, the movie lurches around like something assembled by committee. The TV-veteran director, Craig Gillespie, fails to get a comic rhythm going. As a result, the picture frequently fizzles just as the actors are getting started.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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