If you have a bully problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire...Judge Paul Pritchard.
Our review of Drillbit Taylor (Blu-Ray), published July 11th, 2008, is also available.
"Now in addition to the Chinese Kung Fu, we've got a little Mexican Judo, as in 'Judon't know who you messin' with, homz.'"
Another month, another Jud Apatow comedy. But is Drillbit Taylor the beginning of the end or just a momentary blip?
Facts of the Case
The first day at high school is not going well for best friends Ryan and Wade. Not only have they committed the fashion faux pas of wearing the same shirt, they've also attracted the attention of school bully Filkins, an emancipated minor who, in the words of fellow victim Emmett, "answers to no one" and is "above the law!"
When a meeting with their school principal fails to bring results, Ryan, Wade, and Emmett take matters into their own hands and put out an ad for a bodyguard. As the cheapest option available, the boys select Drillbit Taylor, an ex-black ops agent. In reality, Drillbit is actually an army deserter, currently homeless, who plans to rob the boys blind at the first opportunity. But when Drillbit sees the boys continually getting pounded on, he's forced to reevaluate his own actions as he comes to care for them.
It would be easy to dismiss Drillbit Taylor out of hand. Hardly setting the world's box office alight, despite the talent involved, this latest Owen Wilson vehicle failed miserably to earn the same following the likes of Superbad and Anchorman had earned before it. Indeed, part of the problem may well stem from the movie's more prominent siblings. Coming from the people that brought you The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, amongst others, means that, rightly or wrongly, you're going to be compared to them. Throw in the fact that the story originated from John Hughes—yes, that John Hughes, he of Planes, Trains and Automobiles fame—and, like the slightly dim middle child of the family, you're just never going to match up.
But given the chance to succeed on its own merits, free of the baggage that the Apatow/Rogen/Hughes connection brings, Drillbit Taylor establishes itself as a lightweight, yet perfectly enjoyable comedy, albeit a comedy as patched up as your grandma's quilt.
Although only a fool would argue Drillbit Taylor ever reaches the upper echelons attained by, say, Superbad, there's no question that when it's on form, Drillbit Taylor is hysterically funny. From rap battles and Wilson going "undercover" as a substitute teacher to a succession of beatdowns; there's enough here to warrant a recommendation. There's a slight imbalance in the humor, however, due to the film being a little too restrained at times. A mean streak courses through Drillbit Taylor's veins, one that it seems uncomfortable with. The upshot of this is that, while the film struggles to carve out a good image, Drillbit Taylor is at funniest when its being cruel. For better or worse, some of the funniest moments are when our hapless heroes are getting their asses handed to them; perhaps eschewing the nice-guy attitude altogether would have been a wise move?
Owen Wilson is as likeable as ever here, his natural charm frequently employed to direct our attention away from some of the film's regular missteps. Though the character of Drillbit lacks the refinement of earlier Wilson roles such as Dignan in Bottle Rocket, Wilson is adept enough to ensure that, while we're watching, at least, Drillbit is infused with enough personality to keep us interested; just don't expect him to be all that memorable once the movie's over.
Matching Wilson stride-for-stride are relative newcomers Troy Gentile (Ryan), Nate Hartley (Wade), and David Dorfman (Emmett). Sure these youngsters are likeable, but more importantly, they have excellent comic timing and can carry a scene when Wilson isn't around. The interplay between the three reveals a natural comic ability and marks them as talent to keep an eye out for.
Having not seen Drillbit Taylor during its theatrical run, I can't say whether this extended cut makes for a better movie, though I suspect shortening the running time may have made for a tighter film, with less flab.
Apart from the extended/unrated cut, Drillbit Taylor: Extended Survival Edition comes with a pretty decent bevy of extras. While a commentary with cast and crew fails to be as entertaining as you might expect, a telephone conversation between writers Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown is both funny and informative, providing a fair bit of background on the project.
The disc's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer offers a sharp picture with excellent color reproduction. The disc's audio also impresses, though it will very rarely, if ever, stretch your sound system.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as writers Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown should be commended for some ingenious set pieces, they deserve equal criticism for some appallingly lazy scripting, which sees the film begin to burnout around the 50-minute mark. That's right, just shy of the halfway point things begin to head south, with the laughs drying up at an equal rate to the increase in groans.
During this "downtime," Drillbit Taylor turns into a terribly formulaic comedy; one where nearly every cliché in the comedy rulebook comes into play. Wanna see the central character learn some valuable life lessons? Were you yearning for the likeable nerd to fall in love and finally grow a pair? By any chance had you been thinking it would be "just super" if the school bully, once again, fooled the school principal into believing he was the victim? If you answered yes to any of the above, then a) I recommend you seek help, immediately, and b) you're in luck, because Drillbit Taylor contains all of the above and more.
Had the film's characters been even one percent more original, there's a chance we might have cared more. As it stands though, these characters could have been lifted from pretty much any Rogen/Apatow collaboration, complete with character arcs as predictable as the result of sticking your hand in a blender. And while the film's final 15-minutes see things get back on track, it isn't really enough to save Drillbit Taylor from justifiably being labeled as a disappointment.
A healthy dose of enthusiasm, an amiable cast, and the odd kick in the nuts ensure that, while Drillbit Taylor may be one of the lesser releases from the Judd Apatow stable, feeling more filler than killer, this throwaway flick just about has enough going for it to make it worth a rental.
The Judge orders the defendants suffer the indignity of having their asses "Billy Jacked."
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Steven Brill, Kristofor Brown, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley, and David Dorfman
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