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"DRILLBIT TAYLOR"
(2008) (Owen Wilson, Nate Hartley) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Three freshmen hire a homeless man who claims he can protect them from the high school bully who's been terrorizing them.
PLOT:
It's supposed to be a big event in their lives, but the first day of high school for best friends Wade (NATE HARTLEY) and Ryan (TROY GENTILE), who now wants to be known as T-Dog, turns out to be a nightmare. And that's because Wade decides to step in and tell senior bullies Filkins (ALEX FROST) and Ronnie (JOSH PECK) to stop picking on diminutive freshman Emmit (DAVID DORFMAN).

Accordingly, Filkins and his accomplice make the three boys their target for continued harassment. Too embarrassed to tell their parents and unable to get the school principal (STEPHEN ROOT) to believe their story -- especially since Filkins has everyone fooled that he's a good kid -- Wade and Ryan decide they have to hire a bodyguard for protection.

After a round of interviews that go nowhere, they end up hiring former Army man Drillbit Taylor (OWEN WILSON), not realizing he's really a homeless man who will say anything to get what he needs or desires. That includes enough money to get him to Canada, but his fellow homeless friend, Don (DANNY McBRIDE), convinces him to stay since gaining the boys' confidence will also gain them access to their homes and the possessions therein.

Even so, and realizing the boys truly do need his help, Drillbit decides to pose as a substitute teacher so that he can watch over them. He's distracted, however, by English teacher Lisa (LESLIE MANN) with whom he carries on a torrid affair. From that point on, and as Wade finds himself smitten with fellow student Brooke (VALERIE TIAN), the boys hope that the pointers and training Drillbit has delivered will allow them to handle the bullies who are terrorizing them.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Having been a smallish kid with thick glasses and a girl's first name for my last, I lived the life of facing bullies through my middle and early high school life many moons ago. As most any other kid who's experienced the same can tell you, it's no picnic living in fear for your life, and it's apparently an even worse epidemic now than "back in the day."

When away from the bullies and with their own friends, such victims often act as if it's no big deal. Yet, while alone they often take out their frustrations, fear and anger in any number of ways, including toward inanimate objects, video game characters and sometimes -- unfortunately -- younger kids and pets.

Others fantasize about delivering some sort of comeuppance to the bullies, and movies that play upon that often strike a chord among such victims. While I had already grown out of the being bullied stage by the time it came out, 1980's "My Bodyguard" nevertheless grabbed my attention.

And that's not just because the picked upon kid (Chris Makepeace) hired a hulking bodyguard (Adam Baldwin) to deal with the school bully (a young but effective Matt Dillon). Instead, it's because the film was well-made, thoughtful, and sensitive about the issue, especially in exploring what made the main characters tick.

Accordingly, upon hearing that Baldwin was appearing in a new bully movie, "Drillbit Taylor," for the current generation, and that some of the Judd Apatow filmmaking machine (responsible for films such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Superbad") was directly involved, my interest was piqued.

Unfortunately, Baldwin only has a cameo appearance, while the Apatow touch (raunchy material smoothed over by charm and/or heart) feels fairly neutered here (by the PG-13 rating) and continues to diminish in its effectiveness of playing off that mix.

Instead, what we really get is an Owen Wilson picture, which isn't a bad thing if you're a big fan of the star's work, where it's just more of the same old, same old. The actor has made a career out of mostly playing a sort of drawn out and some might say slow surfer dude with a big heart who's always having various sorts of bad things happen to him.

Here, Wilson plays the title character, a homeless guy who comes across three boys and their need for a bodyguard and bluffs his way into the paid position. The humor is supposed to stem from him not really knowing what he's doing, but since the actor has done this so many times before in previous flicks, it hardly feels original, and the interaction with those boys (played by Troy Gentile and Nate Hartley as slightly younger versions of those from "Superbad') never really takes off as intended.

Yes, there are some laughs to be had here and there, and you can see the cast and crew working on the charm thing. Yet, it -- appropriately enough I guess -- simply can't escape coming off like a juvenile and scaled down version of the previous Apatow outings.

Since the sexual material can't be as outrageous as what's occurred in the previous R-rated Apatow comedies, it lacks the necessary punch to work, although that same fault pervades the rest of the humor as well. A subplot featuring Leslie Mann as a high school English teacher who has an in-school tryst with Wilson's character (while posing as a substitute teacher) similarly falls flat.

If not for the upcoming and fairly funny but decidedly raunchy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (due April 18th), I could have said this pic might have been the beginning of (if not the) end of the recent Apatow filmmaking phenomenon.

That said, with both charm and genuine laughs in short supply, and the Apatow formula staring to wear a bit thin, "Drillbit Taylor" ends up such a weak comedy that no one will care about that it will be easy pickings for any reviewer ready for a little cinematic bullying. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed March 15, 2008 / Posted March 21, 2008


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