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.
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 those drawbacks one at a time.
Drillbit is a bum. Literally. He's a homeless man 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 two boys. Filkins is what the film calls an "emancipated" juvenile, meaning he is living alone with no one to answer to. His parents are out of the country, and he lives alone in his own house, driving 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 maniac, the boys are total losers. Wade is tall and gangly, with glasses and braces, 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. Uh huh. Again, what are the odds?
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.
The video probably represents something close to what was on the original print and what the director intended. I don't know for sure because I never saw the movie in a theater. Nevertheless, what I saw on the disc did not impress me, intentional or not. The wide, 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation does its best with what it's got, which means its colors are quite intense, strongly saturated, excessively deep, and often too dark, too extreme, too glossy, and too bright for anything approaching real life. All you have to do look out the window to see that this isn't reality, and I'm sure reality is the last thing the director wanted. You'll find grain at a minimum, definition OK, and detailing somewhat soft, especially noticeable in somewhat bland facial features. While there is nothing really wrong with the video quality, it all appears too glassy brilliant and smoothed over for my taste.
The sound is also unexceptional. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio produces 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 really isn't a lot of frequency range or dynamic impact to speak of, nor much of anything out of the ordinary about it.
For so inconsequential a movie, the DVD has a fair number of bonus items. The first, of course, is the very fact that this particular version is called 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 thirteen deleted and extended scenes, some seventeen minutes in anamorphic widescreen. Because the color seemed much more natural to me than the color of the feature film itself, I can only assume the director meant for the film to look as oversaturated as it is.
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 five brief featurettes of three-to-five minutes each: "Rap Off," "Sprinkler Day," "Bully," "Directing Kids," and "The Real Dan: Danny McBride."
The bonuses conclude with fifteen scene selections but no chapter insert; several trailers at start-up and a few more in the menu; and English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles.
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 silly, sentimental, sometimes cruel, often clumsy, mostly unfunny, and frustratingly inane. Wilson does his best, but for how long can he keep playing practically the same charming slacker in film after film?