By Joshua Rich
Updated September 14, 2007 at 06:48 PM EDT
Credit: Tracy Bennett

Mr. Woodcock opens today, PopWatchers, and if you’ve been following the ongoing saga behind this comedy, you can appreciate just how special today is. For a while, it was looking as if this funny flick — in which Billy Bob Thornton (pictured) plays an evil P.E. teacher who sets up home with the mother (Susan Sarandon) of a man (Seann William Scott) whom he used to terrorize in school — was never going to come out. It has been on the shelf for more than two years, gone through multiple release dates, and been largely overhauled after test audiences turned their noses up at an early cut.

Lord knows, I’ve been following the progress of this movie very closely, ever since I visited its set way, way back on May 25, 2005. (I remember that day vividly, because I went straight from Mr. Woodcock‘s Culver Studios soundstage to a party where I met a filmmaker I had barely heard of, Judd Apatow, who invited me to watch an early cut of a bawdy farce he had just finished shooting, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It’s been that long.) And, I’ve gotta say, I’m sorry to have seen the movie struggle to make it to the screen. Its original screenplay, when I read it two and a half years ago, was remarkably sharp. The mood on the set was upbeat; Thornton smiled as he spoke warmly about the film: “It’s a good one. I think the director’s really good, Craig Gillespie. I think he’s making a really good movie, and I’m looking forward to it.” And I saw a lot of promise in the scenes that I watched first-time feature director Gillespie shoot (and it’s clear that he’s got the chops, if the buzz from the Toronto Film Festival about his latest movie, Lars and the Real Girl, is to be believed). I even saw a cut of Mr. Woodcock at a screening about a year ago and thought it was perfectly fine (not Superbad great, mind you, but certainly serviceable).

addCredit(“Mr. Woodcock: Tracy Bennett”)

So what the heck happened? The notion that test audiences didn’tlike early versions of the film only partly explains the long delay.Did Thornton’s Hollywood heat cool after the similarly themed Bad News Bears and School for Scoundrels flopped? Was it, as EW’s Marc Bernardin states in his C+ review of the film, a matter of this very tame, middle-of-the-road comedy being unable to keep up in the post-Apatow world? Or maybe, as I surmised in today’s Box Office Preview, sometimes a movie is just a dud.

Whatever the reason, I have two questions for you. Does knowing thata movie had been gathering dust for a really long time before finallyopening in any way deter you from seeing it? And will you be paying tosee Mr. Woodcock this weekend — or ever?