Will the high school nerds-seeking-revenge story ever get to be annoying and old? Actually, yes, and soon, thanks to Drillbit Taylor. The universal themes of high school hierarchies and the oppressed having their day of triumph, along with the Judd Apatow stamp of approval, somehow can't save this thin, watery story. Inconsistent and jerkily edited, It's one of the sloppiest movies I've seen in a long time. It's not the worst thing ever — the verbal humor works in fits and starts — but mostly it's just messy and poorly thrown together. Toward the end it starts to drag considerably, and then gives up and becomes an endless series of scenes in which dudes punch other dudes.
Owen Wilson plays Drillbit Taylor, a homeless man who is hired by three high school kids to be their bodyguard against the fearsome school bully Filkins (Alex Frost) and his sidekick, Ronnie (Josh Peck). Drillbit, feigning extensive knowledge in combat and human psychology, "trains" the boys to defend themselves against the bullies. But when Drillbit's advice backfires, he's takes matters into his own hands and pretends to be a substitute teacher at their school in order to "protect" the boys from a closer proximity. The movie doesn't end there, though, so read more.
At school he meets a fellow teacher, Lisa (a totally underused Leslie Mann), and they start up a relationship under the pretense that he's a doctor . . . and a substitute teacher. Ultimately, however, it comes out that Drillbit's been taking everyone for a ride, and the boys, predictably, need to figure out what bravery means for themselves.
My favorite parts of the movie are Owen Wilson's scenes, which actually surprises me a little. I've always wondered if Wilson himself had any true talent, or if he was just one of those lucky actors to happen upon great material. In this case, he's the most enjoyable thing about Drillbit Taylor. In fact, it's disappointing how flat and empty the boys are (with the exception of the villainous Alex Frost who sometimes borders — deliciously — on psychopathic), when they could have been the heart of the story.
Skinny, awkward Wade is tolerable, and the littlest guy Emmit (David Dorfman) serves mainly to make high-pitched squeaks and scurry frantically around like Gollum. But Ryan (Troy Gentile), supposedly one of our protagonists, is such a truly unlikeable person I actually found myself longing for the tiresome hysteria of Seth (Jonah Hill) in Superbad, a recent high school comedy that worked successfully. And one of the most satisfying things about Superbad is that in the end, it's all about the relationship between Evan and Seth. The movie is funny and crude, but there is a genuine sweetness to that friendship. This is absent altogether in Drillbit Taylor, along with many other things.
Bottom line: If you're a 12 year old boy, this might be the funniest thing ever. But then again, I may be underestimating 12 year old boys everywhere.
To see the trailer and more clips from Drillbit Taylor check out movies.ivillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Paramount