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Drillbit Taylor: Three McLovins shy of a happy meal

by Glen Baity

Like most people who would eventually grow up to review movies, I was bullied when I was a kid.

I didn’t get it bad, but there were definitely hallways I didn’t go down at certain times of day, a few psychos-in-training I knew not to piss off, though in retrospect (isn’t it always the case?) I probably could’ve taken them.

So I’m sympathetic with Drillbit Taylor’s leading trio of nerds. Unlike these three, I never got stuffed in a locker – too chunky – but I know what it’s like to be hounded by some sociopath loser.

I also know what it’s like to sit through a boring movie (on the bully scale, it’s somewhere between “wedgie” and “purple nurple”), and while Drillbit isn’t overtly painful, it doesn’t do its audience any favors. The premise: Wade, Ryan and Emmit (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman) start their freshman year of high school by running afoul of weasel-eyed Filkins (Alex Frost), a rageaholic who looks like he should’ve graduated three years ago.

Convinced they’ll spend the rest of the year in various stages of torment, the three place a want ad for a bodyguard. Enter Bob “Drillbit” Taylor (Owen Wilson), a homeless pathological liar who dupes the boys into believing he’s ex-Black Ops, despite the fact he doesn’t seem to have ever been in a fight. Drillbit, sick of scamming change on the freeway, hops on the rich-kid gravy train while the boys struggle adjust to life in constant panic mode.

Drillbit Taylor is the second feature co-written by Seth Rogen, who infused last year’s Superbad with a lot of sweetness, despite its potty-humor fixation. He penned this one with Kristofer Brown, and while the film doesn’t exactly ring false, it doesn’t have Superbad’s winning personality. Some of that is due to the stars – Hartley, Gentile and Dorfman are good enough, but they lack the deadpan charm of Michael Cera, the unflinching, good-natured vulgarity of Jonah Hill and the not-even-faking-it awkwardness of Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

They have a decent co-star in Wilson, who plays Drillbit with the same lazy grin he brings to nearly all of his roles. Maybe I’m imagining things, but that endearing sensibility has seemed a little darker since his much-publicized suicide attempt last year, something Wilson hasn’t yet spoken about in public. Though his character rarely tells the truth about anything, it’s obvious Drillbit has seen better days, and Wilson, at this stage in his life, isn’t exactly the guy to make homelessness zany and madcap.

Though I haven’t seen it (shame on me, I know), I hear Drillbit Taylor owes at least its central idea to the 1980 comedy My Bodyguard. Well, big deal. Superbad owed its premise to at least 500 other teen comedies, and it managed to distinguish itself. Where this film falters is in the execution.

Maybe it’s the unnecessarily chaste PG-13 rating, but it feels like there’s something restraining Drillbit’s laughs. The film is a little too dull, a little too familiar, and director Steven Brill (of Little Nicky fame) doesn’t do much to set it apart. He could have started by shaving off 15 minutes in the middle and dispensing entirely with a lot of the staler material, like Wade’s family of chucklehead jocks. Even then, he’d have his work cut out for him.

Despite all that, it’s easy enough to cheer for the underdogs in this picture if you’re the kind who likes seeing a bully get what’s coming to him. There are even a few laughs, though they’re only pretty good. Judd “King Midas” Apatow might have a producer credit, but that doesn’t keep Drillbit Taylor from feeling a tad warmed over.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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