New comedy 'Drillbit Taylor' one of Wilson's worst
March 27, 2008
Judd Apatow’s recent success in the realm of comedy is no secret. “Talladega Nights,” “Superbad,” “Knocked Up”—it certainly seems that whatever the man touches turns into comic gold. But his ascent up the ladder of success hasn’t been without its missteps, the latest of which is “Drillbit Taylor.” This is a film that feels curiously sanitized, playing way too safe to be associated with a guy who’s not afraid to get a little bawdy with his projects.
It’s the first day of high school for gangly Wade (Nate Hartley), husky Ryan (Troy Gentile) and uber-nerd Emmit (David Dorfman). But they’ve no sooner stepped indoors than they’ve become the targets of resident bully Filkins (Alex Frost). The trio suffers humiliation after humiliation at the upperclassman’s hands, to the point that they decide enough is enough and hire someone to defend them. After a stream of potential candidates turn out to be too pricey, out from the group emerges the right guy for the job: Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a former Army Ranger turned deadbeat bum who patrols the highway for spare change and dumpster dives on a daily basis. Initially taking the job to milk the kids for all their worth, Drillbit’s mind changes once he witnesses Filkins’ torments firsthand, and he becomes determined to teach the kids to stand up for themselves once and for all.
“Drillbit Taylor” certainly seemed promising to start, what with “Superbad” scribe Seth Rogen sharing writing duties and the plenty likable Wilson headlining. But rather than tread the path of “Superbad” and actually create characters you can identify with out of stock roles, “Drillbit Taylor” over simplifies things to a fault. The kids are hollow stereotypes more than anything (the loud fat kid, the shy skinny kid, the “McLovin” type that out-geeks them all), and Filkins’ attacks on them are so brutal, you’re almost forced to sympathize with them on principle alone.
In general, “Drillbit Taylor” just doesn’t offer much up in the way of laughs. A dull running gag is that Drillbit is more of a good-natured slacker (so, yeah, perfect part for Owen Wilson) than a take-charge warrior, so his advice to the kids who hire him involves randomly traipsing through the woods rather than teaching them to really defend themselves. I guess the ways in which the kids are tormented (shoved into lockers, made to urinate on each other, etc.) are meant to be seen in a comedic light, but once again, these moments are depicted in such a way that one views the teens more as pathetic than as lovable losers. As for Wilson, he plays Drillbit to the best of his abilities, and as well as the rather bland script allows him to do.
All in all, “Drillbit Taylor” is far from a bad flick. But much like the recent “Charlie Bartlett,” it seems content just to be entertaining enough so as not to make the time spent watching it a total bust—which, in a weird way, is almost worse than just flat-out being bad.
A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.