I say this not because there are no laughs (there are a few, mainly at the beginning, when Woodcock is throwing the basketball at the kids, bouncing it off the wall and hitting the kid running, etc.).
And I also say this not because it wasn't professionally made (it was). And not because it wasn't well acted, or photographed, or edited (by two top A.C.E. editors), or scored (technically, it succeeds on these levels).
I say it's maybe the worst film ever because the script (written by amateurs) and the director (with experience in commercials) and the producers completely squandered an idea that could have had potential. I don't feel angry about the film, I don't "hate" it as many others do... it just makes me sad. It makes me sad because the absence of great filmmaking talent, or even decent filmmaking talent, has never been so so clear and painful to experience.
With a great director or writer -- such as Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Jerry Lewis, Frank Capra -- this mess of a script could have been turned in. The ridiculously stupid and insensitive mother character played by Susan Sarandon could have been shaped into a real person, someone that we cared about and respected, not stared at and said, "huh?"
Same with the Amy Poehler's agent character, or whatever she was. Poehler has never, ever been more unfunny or grotesque or one-dimensional than in this film. She's a ludicrous caricature, not even bearing a passing resemblance to an actual human being. When she admits she didn't read the self-help book the author she's promoting had written, that was a good moment, it had potential, it was mildly funny and revealing. It painted a picture of a sleazy agent. But then she goes and ruins it -- or rather, the screenwriter ruined it -- by making her into some kind of insane insane, grotesque, monster. So the reality goes right out the window, and the laughs with it.
The absurd level of exaggeration is true of basically every character in the script, from the guys at the restaurant who keep coming up with ridiculously offensive ways to describe how Woodcock is screwing the guy's mother -- right in front of the guy -- to the self-help guy to Woodcock himself, who is so ridiculously one-dimensional and cartoonish that I felt I was watching Saturday morning TV.
In fact, the whole film feels like a cartoon -- an unfunny, badly-written cartoon, about as subtle as the Road Runner dripping the boulder in the coyote from on top of the cliff (no disrespect to the great Road Runner cartoons, of course -- they were classic and worked -- guess what? because they were cartoons).
I guess first-time feature director Gillespie didn't quite understand that. I guess he thought it was a live-action cartoon... or maybe a 90- minute version of one of his commercials. (Guess what, Craig: it's not. It's a movie. There's a difference. Completely different beast. Welcome to Hollywood.)
So this is a terrible, terrible film, in my view, because of the unforgivable waste of time, talent and money. And it points up the weaknesses in the system. Instead of working to get the script into shape -- as Billy Wilder could have done in a weekend -- they went ahead and shot the script, using a novice feature director for good measure. Then after they watched the film, it finally dawned on them: "Gee, maybe this isn't such a good picture after all. Maybe we made a mistake here! Duh!!!"
So then they tried to save it with re-shoots. And like putting a band-aid on a gunshot victim, the producer stepped in and started directing scenes. But there was no saving it -- it was too late. Too late because the dye had been cast. Too late to fix it. The terrible script had been shot and the horrible, unbelievable characters had been put onto film. And there was just no way around it.
The re-writes failed and the re-shoots failed and the ending failed.
Then the idiots who made this had one, final chance to make this turkey work -- the ending -- and then they blew that, too. I mean, talk about bad choices -- the main character (hero) actually admits that the bad guy (opponent) is actually RIGHT?!?!??? That what he did was actually GOOD?????
Some of the other choices might have been forgivable. This is not forgivable, in my opinion. This is perhaps the single worst ending in the history of movies. It completely destroys the integrity of the main character. And it would have been so easy to fix. Two words could have saved it, or at least helped repair the damage. The guy could have said something positive about Mr. Woodcock, as he does, and then say "just kidding," for example. Anything.
This is just terrible, ill-advised and amateur writing that should have been dumped into a trash can with all the other amateur scripts... but instead, it was somehow green-lighted and made into a 22 million dollar-film starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Well, at least I can take heart in the fact that the guilty parties will eventually face what's coming to them, at a later time, in a later place. They'll ask for forgiveness, they'll beg for redemption, and -- God willing -- they'll receive neither.