By all accounts, Owen Wilson is one of the nicest guys in the world, very much like his on-screen persona. So why does he wind up in so many bad movies? Is it because he essentially plays the same character over and over, and there's nothing left for him to do? I don't know. But the 2008 comedy "Drillbit Taylor" does nothing for him or his career and certainly nothing for the audience, even if the movie is in high-definition picture and sound.
Judd Apatow, who co-produced "Drillbit," is the same fellow who gave us "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and "Superbad." Seth Rogen, who co-wrote "Drillbit," is the same fellow who worked with Apatow on "Knocked Up" and "Superbad." So you'd think these guys would know what they were doing in a comedy. Likewise director Steven Brill should have known a few things, although his resumé isn't quite so impressive, having done "Little Nicky," "Mr. Deeds," and "Without a Paddle." Maybe we can blame the results on him. Or maybe we can blame John Hughes (yes, THAT John Hughes), who co-wrote the movie under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes.
In any case, it looks as if the writers remembered the 1980 film "My Bodyguard" when they made this one because they lifted the same plot premise from the older movie. They even pay their respects to "My Bodyguard" by having one of its stars, Adam Baldwin, do a cameo in "Drillbit."
Basically, in this new version we get an older high school bully, Terry Filkins (Alex Frost), mercilessly tormenting a pair of freshmen, Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile), until in desperation the kids resort to hiring a professional bodyguard to watch out for them. They hire Drillbit Taylor (Wilson).
However, while the filmmakers may have derived some inspiration from the 1980 film, they couldn't seem to find anything like the same spirit. Whereas "The Bodyguard" was warm and sweet and funny, "Drillbit Taylor" is cold, mean-spirited, and tiresome. The reasons are twofold: (1) The title character is unlikable; and (2) the filmmakers do the entire movie in so wild and exaggerated a style, it makes us lose our patience early on. Let's look at these drawbacks one at a time.
Drillbit is a bum. Literally. He's a homeless loafer living at the beach and supporting himself by panhandling on the highway. He begs money from people sitting in their cars in traffic. When he answers the boys' ad for a bodyguard, he tells them he was a former Army Ranger, trained to kill. He's quite pathetic, actually. Drillbit cheats and steals to get by, and, frankly, it's easy to be a hero to kids when you're bigger and older than they are, and you lie a lot. Of course, Drillbit is a charismatic bum, by which the filmmakers mean to win our sympathy. It doesn't work. We see in a minute he's only in it for the money, and no amount of eventual rehabilitation can change that fact.
Worse than trying to gain our attention with a character of questionable merit is the filmmakers' attempt to make us laugh at characters and situations that have no grounding in reality whatever. Not that farce should be realistic, but it should at least play by some sort of ground rules. Sure, kids sometimes get bullied at school. But this particular bully is a genuine psychopath who makes it his mission in life to torture and plague the boys. Filkins is what the film calls an "emancipated" minor, meaning he is living alone while his parents are in Hong Kong, and he has no one to answer to. He is essentially above the law, lives alone in his own house, and drives a new, black Dodge Charger SR-8, with which he chases the boys around the neighborhood and through the shrubbery. What's more, Filkins menaces the kids in full view of practically everybody in school, yet there is never anyone who comes to the boys' defense and never a teacher, administrator, or campus supervisor to intervene. What are the odds?
Not only is the bully a homicidal maniac, the boys are total losers. Wade is tall and skinny and wears glasses, and Ryan is short and pudgy (and looks like a miniature Seth Rogen), both of them hopelessly lost in high school and out of touch with high-school culture. They are easy targets not only for the bully but for any crude humor the filmmakers devise.
Naturally, all the adults in the movie are idiots. This is a common thread in children's films because filmmakers believe that all kids feel persecuted by adults. I already mentioned that Drillbit is a dishonest bum. Wade's stepfather is a macho sports addict who considers his son a nerd. Ryan's mother is an airhead. The school principal and the school's teachers are imbeciles. One cute, single, female English teacher (Leslie Mann) falls for Drillbit, and they make passionate love in her classroom several times a day. Again, what are the odds, even in farce?
To keep an eye on his charges, Drillbit infiltrates the school by posing as a substitute teacher, and nobody questions him. He even teaches classes. How can anybody watching this movie accept anything in it for a minute?
And so on; you get the idea. As a comedy, we expect "Drillbit Taylor" to be silly, but we also expect it to play by some kind of rules. Otherwise, it's just a cartoon where anything can happen. In "Drillbit" anything does happen, and most of it just elicits a groan of despair.
Frankly, I didn't care for the color palette the director chose, and I said so in my review of the standard-definition disc. The 1080p, VC-1, BD50 transfer does little to change my opinion. I'll admit the high-def video probably represents what was on the original print and what the director wanted (but I cannot be sure because I never saw the movie in a theater). Be that as it may, the colors I saw on the Blu-ray disc did not impress me, intentional or not. The wide, 2.35:1 presentation does its best with what it's got, which means its hues are again quite intense, strongly saturated, excessively deep, and often too dark, too extreme, too glossy, and too shiny for anything approaching real life, not that reality was anything the director intended. While overall definition is adequate for an HD release, detailing remains somewhat soft, especially noticeable in the characters' somewhat bland facial features. No, there is really nothing wrong with the video quality, and a lot of people will find the brilliance, depth, and richness of its colors to their liking. It just looks too glassy bright and smoothed over for my taste.
Like the video, the audio is also unexceptional. There isn't much to the sound expect dialogue and raucous background music, so there is not a lot of difference between the BD disc's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio and the SD disc's regular Dolby Digital. The TrueHD does reproduce some clear, clean mids, a decent stereo spread, and a few well-placed surround effects, environmental noises mainly, like crowds, birds, and cars. Other than that, there isn't much frequency range or dynamic impact to speak of, nor much of anything out of the ordinary about it.
For so inconsequential a movie, the Blu-ray disc has a fair number of bonus items, all of them in high definition to sweeten the pot. The first bonus, of course, is the very fact that this particular version of the movie is the "Extended Survival Edition" and includes several additional minutes of footage not seen in theaters. I couldn't tell you what they are, however, not having seen the original version.
Next, there's an audio commentary by the director, Steven Brill, one of the co-writers, Kristofor Brown, and actors Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley, and David Dorfman. After that is a fourteen-minute featurette, "The Writers Get a Chance to Talk," wherein we hear more from Kristofor Brown along with co-writer Seth Rogen. The most interesting item for me, though, was the series of deleted and extended scenes, over twenty-three minutes in high-def widescreen.
After those segments, we find an item called "Line-O-Rama," about four minutes of additional dialogue; followed by a four-minute gag reel; and then a whole series of brief featurettes: "Panhandle," "Rap Off," "Bully," "Sprinkler Day," "Directing Kids," "The Real Dan: Danny McBride," and others.
The bonuses conclude with fifteen scene selections but no chapter insert; several theatrical trailers; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; and English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
It's hard not to like Owen Wilson in any movie, even when he's playing a bum, as he does here. The guy is so charming, we know he's not going to let us down. Much. Yet in "Drillbit Taylor" his character is so very unscrupulous that even Wilson can't save him, and with him goes the movie. The film is harebrained, sentimental, sometimes cruel, often clumsy, mostly unfunny, and frustratingly inane. Not a moment of it rings true, nothing, not an iota, not even farcically true. Wilson does his best, but for how long can he keep playing practically the same charming slacker in film after film?