BUY FROM AMAZON: CLICK HERE
STUDIO: Time Distance and Shielding Media, LLC
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes
Jesse “The Body… er, The Mind” Ventura as a woodshop teacher. Done and done.
Starring Jesse Ventura, Scott Cooper Ryan, Jonathan Davis, Olivia Kendrick, Ross Marquand, Keegan Ridgley, Don S. Davis, Mitch Pileggi
Written and directed by Pete Coggan
When Chris Johnson (Ryan), the soon-to-be valedictorian, accidentally blows up his Chemistry lab, he gets sent to Saturday detention in woodshop, taught by ex-soldier, Mr. Madson (Ventura). There, along with his best friend, Trey (J. Davis), Johnson attempts to build a gun rack out of poplar wood while also dealing with the tomboy (Hendrick) who he has a crush on and the resident bully (Marquand) who wants to kill him.
Watching Woodshop reminded me of the first screenplay I wrote in college. At the time, I desperately wanted to fight against the Hollywood, three-act structure machine that seemed to only produce formulaic crap that had no depth and only surprised those who didn’t know a thing about movies. Yes, I thought very highly of myself and so did the rest of my classmates. I was convinced that my script — my first draft, mind you — about high school kids was on par with Clerks. Maybe better. When my teacher told me that it was good enough for me to be recommended for the next course, I was stoked — but couldn’t understand why he only gave me a B for the class.
It’s because my script was crap. In trying to avoid the pitfalls of paint-by-numbers movies, I also threw out key elements like plot, solid pacing, and high stakes for my characters. The scenes were hilarious to me, but with no story to make them compelling to anyone else, it fell completely flat to the reader — and would’ve been an utter disaster had it ever made it to video. Lots of potential; weak execution.
Woodshop ends up better on screen than that first draft of mine would’ve, I imagine; unfortunately it suffers from those same downfalls that kept my movie from becoming a finished product.
Bishop the synthetic human you are not.
Until about fifteen minutes left in the movie, there is absolutely no plot. None. Well, except for this: at this random high school in Colorado, when students get in trouble — like accidentally blowing up their Chemistry lab or calling their teacher a “bitch” — they get detention. But not just any detention. Woodshop detention on a Saturday. That’s it. That’s the plot. Within ten minutes, our hero Chris Johnson (not the running back from Tennessee, sadly) ends up in woodshop with a motley crue of students that represent every social group you remember from those brutal adolescent years that most of us would rather just forget: the slacker, the smart kid, the tomboy, the jock, the gear heads, the rich kid, the bully.
If it sounds familiar, it is. It’s The Breakfast Club set in a garage surrounded by a bunch of deadly power tools instead of a library.
Now, if there’s one filmmaker that sets an incredibly high bar of quality, it’s the late, great John Hughes. On the surface, The Breakfast Club seems like just a movie about a bunch of students stuck in a room and they hate their principal and maybe each other. They talk, they walk the halls, they eat their lunches, and somewhere along the way we get to know them as they realize that despite the differences on their surfaces, they’re all basically the same. Lessons are learned and something universal about growing up is revealed. It’s a classic.
Like many first kisses, this one is gonna be a disaster.
Woodshop is not. In Woodshop, there’s nothing at stake. In the early scene where Johnson goes into the principal’s office to get his punishment, he’s expecting the worst. But all he gets is a day in woodshop? He’s not going to fail his class. He’s still going to be valedictorian and he still has the best shot at getting into an Ivy League school. His record is untarnished. So, what’s the driving force of the movie? If this is our lead character, the ones we’re supposed to attach ourselves to, the one we’re going to follow on his journey to get what he wants and is having trouble getting it… well, he already has it! He has nothing to lose. And because of that we have nothing to care about for the next 75 minutes.
That’s what I mean by stakes. It’s not until two-thirds of the way through the movie that a cohesive plot and not just scenes strung together emerges in the form of the bully, Luedaking, forcing Johnson to build a bomb in the Chemistry lab… or else. It’s not the most compelling of plot lines, but it’s enough to be the movie’s engine and writer/director Coggan would’ve been well served incorporating something tangible like this much earlier on. Like the end of the first act earlier. It gives the characters somethign to do for the first time other than randomly playing with power tools and it’s only then that I was remotely curious about what would happen next. Then again, by that point I had very little if any vested interest in these characters so my curiosity was only piqued in relation to what it had been, not what it should be during the end of a film’s second act. Even during what should’ve been a fun scene where the students all go out and play floor hockey for their lunch break there were no stakes. They didn’t even have discernible teams! I mean, sports are so inherently dramatic yet even in this case it truly didn’t matter who won or even who was playing.
Now I’ve made it this far, it’s beyond time to mention the elephant in the room, the marquee name on this movie: Jesse Ventura. I have to say, he was made for this role. He has that gruff, no-nonsense-yet-you-feel-like-there’s-heart-behind-that-armor aura about him that lends itself well to the role of Woodshop Teacher and former Desert Storm soldier, Mr. Madson. Unfortunately for Ventura, there’s just hardly even a character there for him to embody.
Seriously: fuck high school.
Like much of the rest of the film and its characters, it’s all just a sketch instead of a fully realized creation. What I did like, though, was that Coggan didn’t write him as the villain, which would’ve been the easy and obvious route to go a la the principal in The Breakfast Club. He means well, but he’s a pretty terrible teacher — he lets Johnson, who has zero experience around power tools, have at it with anything in the shop with no instruction. He’s more of a mediator trying to be a mentor and he does like the kids.
There’s a lot to like with Ventura and his greasy, skullet ponytail that makes him look like Steven Seagal’s older cousin; it’s just too bad that he doesn’t have much to do for most of the movie except constantly disciplining Luedaking (which clearly doesn’t work since he continues to have free reign of the shop), saying his catchphrase “Damnit, Goldstein!” whenever Goldstein the slack does something dumb and dangerous which is often, and nearly bursting into tears while bandaging up a mangled finger and regaling the students with a personal war story. It’s a classic case of great casting hobbled by poor writing.
And that pretty much sums up the entire Woodshop experience, in a nutshell — solid elements that fail to gel into anything more than an unfocused, underdeveloped draft of a movie.
“HOLY SHIT, A BLACK GUY! IN COLORADO! PLEASE DON’T HIT ME, CHRIS BROWN!”
This movie doesn’t look great. The lighting is student-film quality and it shows on screen — the whole thing is dingy to the point of almost feeling damp, if that’s even possible. Sadly, that’s not the worst of the presentation. I haven’t heard audio this bad in a movie in a long time. Unable to hear entire conversations, it’s clear that the mix is completely off — sounds of footsteps drown out dialogue, levels drop and rise during the same conversation, even with the volume turned way up the dialogue still sounded muffled. Even though this is clearly a low-budget affair, bad audio is inexcusable. One thing you should take away from any film production course is that most visuals can be forgiven, but if you have bad audio, there’s no getting away from being labeled “amateur.”
And that, my friends, is why you’re all working for meals and credit only.