”Back when I was picking beans in Guatemala, we used to make fresh coffee, right off the trees I mean. That was good. This is s**t but, hey, I’m in a police station.” – Verbal Kint, “The Usual Suspects”
Back when I was first getting into movies in the late 70s/early 80s, there was a movie called “My Bodyguard” about the new kid in high school who hires the sullen loner to protect him from a bully. That was good. “Drillbit Taylor” is s**t but, hey, I’m in Judd Apatow’s Hollywood.
There’s an adage about spreading oneself too thin, and adages – like concealed handguns and boxes of wine – exist for a reason. After producing one genuinely funny movie (“The 40-Year Old Virgin”), followed by a mostly entertaining one (“Knocked Up”), and a couple of recent uneven efforts (“Superbad,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”), it’s become increasingly apparent that a little Apatow goes a long way. Obviously the movie industry is a fickle bride, making it necessary to strike while the iron is hot, but… well, carpentry is also a worthy pursuit. Maybe learn a new language.
“Drillbit Taylor” stars Owen Wilson in the title role as a homeless fellow of questionable military pedigree who spends his days showering naked on the beach and bumming change from passing cars. That is, until he makes the acquaintance of Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile), two teens who have just started high school and are already suffering at the hands of psychotic senior Filkins (Alex Frost), one of those bullies who seems to have no life outside of victimizing nerds and exists only in a poorly scripted movie (poor script courtesy of Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen). Drillbit is the most affordable option available to the boys (the scene where they vet their bodyguard applicants is the best part of the movie, and solely for a certain three-second cameo), and he puts them under his protection. All while bleeding them of what little pocket money they have.
Movies billed as “comedies” that – ironically – contain almost no laughs are depressingly common these days, and “Drillbit Taylor” is merely the latest in this unwelcome trend. Here, the absence of humor appears to stem from simple laziness. Brown and Rogen’s screenplay does little more than plunder material from every high school movie since “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” while Wilson reliably displays every style in his acting résumé, from torpid to somnolent. Hartley and Gentile are believable enough as dorks, even if they’re surprisingly clueless at Drillbit’s early and obvious lack of bodyguard skills.
Wading through prehistoric gags (the fat, Jewish kid is into gangsta rap!) might be tolerable if there was even a hint of realism – depicting high school as legitimately cruel and not a place where everybody cheers for the underdog, perhaps – but not only is every character ripped straight from John Hughes’ Big Book of High School Stereotypes (he even has a story credit), but the PG-13 rating reduces most of the dialogue to sitcom-level banality. And as a bully movie, “Drillbit Taylor” falls far short of such genre classics as “Three O’Clock High” and “The Karate Kid,” and barely rates mention alongside mediocre efforts like “Lucas” or… ”The Next Karate Kid.” I’d call it a pointless endeavor, except now we might finally be able to pinpoint the source of Wilson’s recent depression.