March 24, 2008

Drillbit Faulty, But Not Broken

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Comedic mastermind Judd Apatow has had quite a run, both critically and commercially. Ever since The 40 Year-Old Virgin, anything he attached his name to has been an instant hit. Just like Warren Buffet is the heavenly king of investing, Apatow has been the king of comedy, his proven record briefly approaching metaphorical equivalency with the hedge fund magnate. With the new release of Drillbit Taylor, however, it looks like Apatow’s seemingly unbeatable, never-ending streak of striking comedic gold has hit the wall, though it has not embarrassingly falling flat on his face. Maybe, just like the stock market right now and the economy in a recession, some things just aren’t meant to last. Tiger Woods is still unbeaten this year, but give it time. Streaks don’t last forever.

Drillbit Taylor, produced by Apatow, takes us back to the high school scene, inviting us into the lives of Ryan (Troy Gentile), a fat boy poster child who’s the perfect blend of Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, and Wade (Nate Hartley), a nerdy looking Skeletor. On their first day at highschool they are introduced to a different kind of education — the school of hard knocks — as they become the prey of two vicious bullies (one even looks like a maniacal Shia Lebouf). The bullies go to work on the boys, subjecting them to non-stop public displays of embarrassment, day in and day out, that would make it impossible for Ryan and Wade to ever reach any sort of popular status. In the darkest hour of humiliation and torment, they hire Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a poverty stricken army veteran, to be their bodyguard.

Owen Wilson is great as the subtly aloof and humble Drillbit. He played a similar role in Wedding Crashers, and he still has that same demeanor and familiar enthusiasm. Showering naked in a public beach shower, scavenging together essentials for survival and constantly wearing the same army ranger outfit, Drillbit is a damn skippy bum. Using the elegant art of persuasion, he manages to blend in and give off the impression to the boys and even the fancy English teacher, Lisa (Leslie Mann), that he’s not a low life.

Straight up, this comedy may be a little too familiar. It’s a predictable mix of the often popular Apatow equation and any other silly high school comedies you’ve ever seen. However, Owen Wilson’s charm really brings a heavy stack of chips to the table as he is the real center of the film — he manages to carry the whole rest of the ensemble on his shoulders, and the laughs are mainly a result of his charaterization.

Sure, the young kids he protects have their moments, but their presence is at times totally detrimental — there were moments when I found myself squirming from the high-pitched, stereotypical screeching of the nerdy voices. There’s a certain awkwardness in these characters that just makes you cringe at their stupid actions. The kids in it resemble those of Superbad, just four years in the past, except instead of sexual jargon it’s fists that are thrown around — violence is everywhere you look.

The plot is quite simple: geeks get bullied so they hire a bodyguard. In an attempt to be original, the plot decides to meander all over the place with hidden agendas. Drillbit, being the bum that he is, plans to milk the rich kids he’s protecting dry as he hatches a scheme with his other homeless buds. It’s wrinkles in the already basic story like this and the love interest between Drillbit and Lisa that steer this half assembled high school comedy through a storm of tumultuous unwieldy chaos. I appreciate the new arches that the writers use to try and make this story stand out from its predecessors, but it gets a little out of control after a while.

But enough of the bad. There’s something to be said for the moments when Owen Wilson uses Spanish conjugations in the wrong situation. Those are the moments that really warm the audience’s heart. Owen Wilson displays some deadpan humor that goes overlooked here. His execution is spot on, even as the rest of the movie misses the mark. As for Leslie Mann, who is married to Mr. Apatow, you would think she would get some more screen time. In all of his movies, she plays small roles, but in her brief time on screen she can steal the show. She deserves to be more than just a savvy love interest role to be used for a few chuckles. Utilize her talents better than that. It would have certainly boosted Drillbit Taylor to shift away from the awkward tendencies of the nerdy hobbits.

There is one thing you can say about Apatow: every comedy he brands with his name will most certainly entertain you. It’s not Knocked Up or Superbad splitting your sides and making you roll to the floor. Drillbit Taylor may be on the low end of the totem pole for Apatow’s comedies — considering they really mailed this one in — but it will still make you laugh.