This small effort from the Jud Apatow funny factory skips the f-bombs but still manages to be funnier than at least one of his R-rated efforts.
What can you do when you’re corpulent, skeletal or really, really short and are facing your first day of high school? Apparently, you can expect to get thumped on a regular basis; crammed into lockers, trophy displays and such; and get kicked when you’re down.
How can you avoid these problems? Well, there’s always Drillbit Taylor: Budget Bodyguard. As played by Owen Wilson, Drillbit is a homeless deserter who stumbles into a great scam – charging three kids of the aforementioned general builds for teaching them to keep the school bully and his equally malevolent sidekick from using them as punching bags.
The three are the corpulent Ryan [Troy Gentile], the really, really short Emmit [David Dorfman] and the skeletal Wade [Nate Hartley. The bullies are Filkins [Alex Frost, apparently taking his bully role from Elephant and making him a complete psycho] and his sidekick, Ronnie [Josh Peck] – and they are definitely serial killers in training.
The Kristofor Brown/Seth Rogen screenplay features more physical violence than all three of the other hits to come from The Judd Apatow production line [I guess something has to escalate to fill the space of all those missing cuss words]. Steven Brill’s direction is pretty straightforward – the pace picks up for the violence; slows slightly for the jokes [allowing beats for audience response], and slows appropriately for the one romantic plot arc.
It’s the romantic arc between Drillbit, faking his way as a substitute teacher, and the lovely, but lovelorn Lisa [Leslie Mann, who is brilliant as usual] that brings the homeless con man out of his scam and into admitting that he actually likes his intended victims. This revelation occurs just in time to try to stop his equally homeless friends from stealing all of Wade’s family’s possessions.
For Wilson, the character of Drillbit pretty much plays to his strengths: aw shucks charm with an underpinning of darkness. He’s fast on his feet, though not as much as he thinks he is – and, of course, when it comes down to crunch time, he makes the right choices even if the result won’t be that good for him.
The punching bag trio come from the usual assortment of circumstances: Wade’s mom re-married a guy who is proud of having been a bully in school and has two sons who look to be following in his footsteps; Ryan’s single mom dotes on him to the point of enabling his weight gain, and Emmit seems to appear from the ozone.
Filkins has become emancipated, and the idiot Principal Doppler – Stephen Root’s second most oblivious character [after Office Space's Milton] – takes that to mean he’s a nice, honest boy who is being maligned by the trio’s allegations of violence. The only person outside the trio who seems to like Wade is a little Asian girl named Brooke [Valerie Tian], which is good because he has a definite crush on her – and has joined all the same clubs [including the Asian Heritage Club] as her in hopes that he’ll be able to work up the courage to talk to her.
Ryan’s claim to fame is that he’s a not too terrible rapper – a sequence where he raps against Filkins is one of the movie’s highlights. Emmit, it seems, doesn’t have any notable skills, but shows an immense amount of courage at a crucial moment.
While the climax of the movie might not be what you’d expect – you’d think three nerds would outthink the bullies – there is an intelligence at play in their actions, especially in how they organize them. And there’s a moment near the end that harkens back what we are sure must be an apocryphal tale about Filkins – a perfectly timed bit of business that gives Wilson one final bravura moment to follow up his one moment of genuine heroism.
Sure, Drillbit Taylor doesn’t have the same level of language and gross humor as, say, Superbad, but it still has plenty of bodily function humor and decent sight gags. It never reaches the heights of Superbad, or Knocked Up, but I have to say I enjoyed it more than The 40-Year Old Virgin [despite Steve Carrell, I still don't regard that one with much respect]. Drillbit Taylor is a little more violent than it needs to be, but it works well enough, overall, that I can recommend it – just.
Final Grade: C+