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DRILLBIT TAYLOR (2008)

June 14, 2008

Drillbit Taylor Review

Matt:

Length: 109 min

Taglines:
You get what you pay for.
Budget Bodyguard.
The best bodyguard pocket money can buy.

Précis: Formulaic and disagreeable comedy about a budget bodyguard’s lazy efforts to protect some kids from a psycho-bully.

Review by Matt:

I was a bit wary, but I still thought Drillbit Taylor – a comedy film from Judd Apatow’s team (Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) – had a premise with some potential. A couple of bullied kids are sick of spending their days hanging by their underpants, so they hire themselves a bodyguard. Pocket money can’t get you much so they end up with raggedy drifter, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson). It’s a movie that might have been charming and funny. It’s not. It’s messy, lackluster, and has a bit of a sour attitude. The film also has a funny tagline: “You get what you pay for”. You don’t. If only it were true and paying the theatre price could actually guarantee a decent comedy.

Instead, Drillbit Taylor gives us hackneyed nonsense that is dissatisfying on every level. As soon as we see a few simple plot pieces drifting toward each other, we know what is going to happen. Bullied boys Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) are without father figures (or in Wade’s case, he has an unbearable ‘gotta-be-a-winner’ step-dad who philosophises that bullies toughen up weedy kids). Cash-strapped Drillbit enters the scene and initially loiters just to organize a jackpot homeless-hit on Wade’s house. But with a bit of “I hope you’re our friend forever” shenanigans, and the beginnings of a romance with the kids’ female teacher (Leslie Mann, in a perplexing nymphomaniac role), Drillbit starts to feel responsible for his little soldiers.

Sounds familiar. School of Rock also recently used little kids to reform an incorrigible slacker in the form of Jack Black, only that movie wasn’t as caustic and Jack Black was more likeable. There’s not much to like about Drillbit the wandering scam-artist, and it’s a cheat if we’re expected to like him just because he’s embodied by charismatic Owen Wilson. The film suffers from systemic unevenness. By the end, we’re not only expected to like Drillbit, but the bullying nastiness has rocketed to an over-the-top degree, and violence is suddenly the problem-solver that saves the day and gets you the girl. There ends up being a gulf between our attitude to the film and its self-perception, because its wavering plot knocks us all askew.

You could forgive the lack of originality and frayed plot if the humour was really sharp. There’s a bit of spark there with a few laughs and some amusing dialogue – mainly from the kids – but it can’t save the sinking wreck. And there are a decent amount of those mis-hit jokes where in the silence afterwards all you can hear is a cricket chirruping outside. The two main kids are good. They have a believable kid-like presence and a decent sense of comedy. They even look a bit like they’re modeled on Laurel and Hardy. I don’t know who the third, irritating, hanger-on kid (Emmit – David Dorfman) is supposed to be modeled on though. Although I loathe bullies, I found myself guiltily thinking he would have made good crab bait.

By the time the end arrives, you’re pleased to see it, and at least there is a bouncy Weezer song over the credits to help restore your mood as you exit (and for all of you wondering, the song is Photograph off Weezer’s excellent Green Album). It leaves you wondering about poor old Owen Wilson, who is a good comedic actor, but found himself again stuck in an ordinary film with mostly unworkable material. He might be a bit like the female teacher in this movie who complains that she has some kind of unconscious attraction to losers. Drillbit Taylor is also a good reminder that current comedy golden boys Seth Rogen (who co-scripted) and Judd Apatow (who produced) maybe aren’t as special as people boast. They need to work harder than this, and Hollywood definitely has a long way to go before it can claim there is a ‘comedy renaissance’ going on.

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