MR. WOODCOCK (Craig Gillespie). 87 minutes. Opens Friday (September 14). Rating: NNN
If you've ever cowered in the glare of irrational authority, Mr. Woodcock is for you.
Seann William Scott stars as a bestselling self-help author who returns home to discover that his widowed mom ( Susan Sarandon ) is dating Mr. Woodcock ( Billy Bob Thornton ), the ball-busting gym teacher who made his grade school life miserable.
Don't underestimate this light comedy because of its gratuitously juvenile title or its weak premise of a self-help writer who can't cope. The plot might be predictable, but the dialogue is surprisingly witty and the performances strong.
Scott, who played Stiffler, the "pull my finger" jock in American Pie, is funny here as a successful man struggling to win the respect of his unusually cruel former teacher. Thornton adds depth to his potentially one-dimensional hard-hearted bully by showing flashes of vulnerability. But the best performance is delivered by SNL's Amy Poehler , who staggers hilariously through the film as a boozy, machete-mouthed publicist.
The momentum stalls near the end, when the actors resort to wild-eyed overacting for laughs, but Mr. Woodcock still entertains.