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By Shawn Marek on 10/18/2010 8:01 AM

Woodshop, the feature film debut from Colorado-based writer/director Peter Coggan, can be described as The Breakfast Club meets Home Depot. It follows the misadventures of a group of misfits, idiots, sociopaths, jocks, & nebbish losers as they endure Saturday detention. Only in this school, detention is defined as "go play with sharp objects in the woodshop until we tell you it's time to go." It's like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, where you have to stave off the enhanced violence of the night creatures until the sun comes up...except you don't have flaming whip or bone shield.

The Simon Belmont of our film is Chris Johnson, the uber-smart Harvard-bound wiz, who is so academically advanced that he is allowed to conduct his own chemistry experiments, while the instructor chides the rest of the students for not giving a crap about tungsten & stuff. As he's doing this, Chris' experiment, which looks to be a powdered sugar cannon, ignites & impales the white board ahead, nearly skewering his teacher.

So, instead of being expelled or hired by the military for his explosive expertise, Chris is offered a reprieve. If he attends Saturday woodshop detention and doesn't blow anything up, the principal will ensure his safe academic passage into Harvard. Unfortunately for Chris, he has never been subjected to yard work or manual labor in his life. Fortunately for Chris, his best friend, the flashy yet surprisingly-grounded Trey, will be there as well.

I should also mention that at this point, we have been introduced to our Dracula, Gary Luedaking. While this is not a horror film, Luedaking is a seemingly unstoppable sociopath beast that is eerily reminiscent of Buddy Revell from Three O'Clock High. He is the most dangerous kind of bully: handsome, physically imposing, & friendless. There is no crew of lackeys to rein him in, as he stampedes through high school as some sort of Rocky Mountain Patrick Bateman. For reasons unclear other than he hates humanity, Luedaking absolutely stalks the will to live out of Chris as they share space in the woodshop.

The crux of the movie is based around the woodshop set piece, Chris' rite of passage into maturity, & the eventual dissolution of his class distinctions. Ultimately, he must overcome his passive nature and stand firm against Luedaking & his menace-a-thon, uniting the rest of the Saturday woodshop crew along the way.

All of what I just described takes place in the third act. For most of movie, we are privy to a lot teenage carpentry, peppered with sexual innuendos & flashbacks. Oh, the flashbacks. If anything, the flashbacks are the glue that holds this movie together, because they fill us in on the relationships between the students and reveal character nuances that are helpful in developing connections with the viewer. For instance, we learn that Goldstein, a self-destructive stoner, is actually smarter than Chris, but cannot realize his gifts thanks to an obsessive mother and a bout with Xanax that most likely fried his brain. We also get some back-story on Trey, who beneath a Ted DiBiase "everyone's got a price" persona, he's actually a modest dude, evident in his friendship with heavy metal gearhead Tony. There is even a brief origin for Luedaking that is both comically amusing & appalling simultaneously.

It's a shame that Coggan didn't give this much attention in the character development department to his protagonist. All we know about Chris is that he's a brainiac, and by default, is awkward around girls and has no confidence. He is in no way compelled to do anything other than exist. Chris is a passive nerd, forced into Saturday detention by outside forces. It isn't until late in the film that he takes initiative to solve a problem that he is facing. For the bulk of Woodshop, Chris is victimized and does nothing. If he is worried about Luedaking, why doesn't he call the cops? Or even better, JESSE VENTURA? At least if these actions blow up in his face, Chris made the effort and now has to face the consequences in order to grow as a person. It is also a problem that Chris has so little at stake, because all he needs to do is go to woodshop and his accident will be forgotten. Since there isn't a strong external conflict that pushes him into the second act, Chris can simply coast and not take any chances. Not all that compelling of a story.

Regardless of character flaws, Coggan employs Woodshop as a vehicle to explore the belief that despite what crowd we ran with in high school, we really aren't all that much different from each other. That was the moral of The Breakfast Club, although Woodshop addresses early on with the aforementioned Trey/Tony dynamic, as well as the tribulations between Trey & Chris. It kind of reminded me of the end of Mean Girls, where the class distinctions are blurred and everyone seems much happier because of it. I'm also a fan of Coggan's subtle commentary on the youth's reliance on cell phones, tying it in nicely with the climax.

I should probably get to the real reason why I watched this movie: WWE Hall of Famer Jesse "The Body" Ventura. It is conceivable that one could go into this movie thinking "Oh boy! I can't wait to see Jesse body-slamming punks and cutting promos!" Jesse plays Frank Madson, an ex-Desert Storm trooper (heh) that now teaches shop at a Colorado high school. To the surprise of this reviewer, Mr. Madson is not a relentless tyrant that enslaves his students to a life of birdhouse production, but a gruff yet benevolent mentor to youngsters that have lost their way. When a kid loses his finger (it is shop class after all), Mr. Madson reacts just like how I would expect Jesse to react: calm, confident, & capable of a quick fix. Jesse's acting skills here make a great case for why it is that wrestlers are often cast in action roles: they are the ultimate improvisers. Their motivations in the scenes of crisis are similar to those of getting a match over with the crowd, or trying to invoke a particular reaction with a promo. The main goal is to survive & overcome.

Sadly, Mr. Madson's role is minimal, despite his ubiquitous presence. He's really only around to yell at the kids and put out fires, but it does make sense, since the movie is supposed to focus on Chris surviving woodshop and not being murdered by Luedaking. Jesse plays the role well, and it is a shame that the script didn't give him more a chance to flex his dramatic abilities.

In a bit of trivia, astute X-Files fans will mark out for appearances by Mitch Pileggi (Skinner), Don S. Davis (Agent Scully's father), along with Ventura himself (who guest-starred in an episode of the show's third season). And for you NFL fans, keep an eye out for former Denver Broncos star wide receiver Rod Smith in a brief cameo. Regrettably, Denver Nuggets scoring wizard Alex English is nowhere to be found.

Aesthetically, Woodshop looks professional, the set decoration looks simple & effortless, and the camera work is pedestrian at best. The most glaring setback is the audio mix, which is painfully garbled & arbitrary, due to a lack of preparation for the echoes & acoustics of the woodshop set. Other times, it feels like the boom mic just wasn't close enough to capture the dialogue, leading to undecipherable lines & missed plot developments.

As a story though, Woodshop is fun. It tries to update the John Hughes formula of teen comedies, and Coggan does succeed in doing this in a variety of ways. There are structural problems in terms of character development & story pacing, but nothing overtly infuriating. Plus, Jesse Ventura's foray into diversifying his acting chops is refreshing and worth the look. Give it a rental, watch it On Demand on the Dish Network, or do yourself one better and support independent filmmakers by purchasing the DVD over at &