Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Owen Wilson, Leslie
Mann, Danny McBride, Josh Peck
Director: Steven Brill
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: July 1, 2008
“Crap on a sh*t sandwich!”
Any high-profile filmmaker with a winning streak is going to hit a bump in the road eventually. For Judd Apatow, whose name has be affiliated with some comedy grand slams like Anchorman, Superbad and the heavily-underrated Walk Hard, that bump has arrived in the form of Drillbit Taylor. But the good news is that Team Apatow has already recovered from this bump, thanks to the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall, as well as the soon to be released Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, the trailers for which produced much more laughs than this movie.
But as it stands, Drillbit Taylor is a true unexpected misfire given the talent in front of and behind the camera. Not only does Judd Apatow serve as one of the producers, but two of the screenwriters are Apatow alum Seth Rogen, who co-wrote Superbad, as well as Edmond Dantes, whose real name happens to be John Hughes. So with all that talent tied to the production, as well as Owen Wilson in the title role, I’m confused as to why the finish product wasn’t the least bit funny.
The main flaw within the movie, even during the moments when it does garner laughs, is that plays like a toned-down, freshman year version of Superbad. Only instead of a memorable, increasingly funny tale of three bumbling seniors doing their best to lose their virginity, we are substituted with an all-too-familiar story of three bumbling freshman who are attacked on a daily basis by a vicious bully. And like in too many standard high school comedies, nobody from the faculty seems to be around whenever the bully attacks his prey in the school hallways.
The three freshmen bully victims are skinny geek Wade (Nate Hartley), pudgy-sized Ryan (Troy Gentile) and short-sized Emmit (David Dorfman). With no other option in sight, they place an ad in the paper for a personal bodyguard. Because the best, as well as not so best, seem to charge beyond their budget, they settle for the most budget bodyguard in town, Drillbit Taylor (Wilson).
Drillbit claims to be an ex-military man of the highest possible caliber, when in fact he’s really just a homeless man looking to make enough dough so he can flee to Canada. In the midst of this lie, he promises the three boys full protection, including a 24 hour watch. He plans to teach them numerous self-defense techniques against the school bully, Filkins (Alex Frost).
Another problem I have with the movie is the character of the bully. You really hate him from minute one, not because he’s a typically mean high school bully but because he’s pretty much a vicious psychopath. And the performance from Alex Frost is like fingernails on a chalkboard, which is the last thing you want in a character like this since he’s supposed to be unlikable from the get-go. Even when he gets the inevitable comeuppance, it doesn’t feel satisfying…mainly because he deserves it from the likes of The Punisher.
Another weakness of the movie are numerous plot points that really stretch believability. Most notably when Drillbit poses as a substitute teacher, which doesn’t even raise the suspicions of the school principal. He assumes a role as both an English teacher and a gym teacher, and yet the movie doesn’t even bother to mention who exactly he’s substituting for. I know this is just a screwball teen comedy, but even some areas demands some plausibility.
One more misfortune is casting Leslie Mann (Mrs. Judd Apatow), only to give her absolutely nothing to do before throwing her role completely out the window. She plays a fellow teacher and possible love interest for Drillbit. He is able to woo her not even two minutes after introducing himself, which causes her to want to get it on in the classroom during her break. Hey, flattering roles are hard to come by.
Owen Wilson, though, is at his charming best in the title role. He achieves a few laughs through his usual screen persona, by being subtle and not trying so hard. But even the character ends up succumbing to a predictable arc where he does the wrong thing (stealing from the family of one of the boys) before realizing he’s a better man for getting to know them.
In the end, what Drillbit Taylor illustrates is that it’s simply too hard for a PG-13 comedy to become a worthy addition to the Judd Apatow comedy library, which thus far has mostly been that of hard-edged R-rated fare. Anchorman was as good as a PG-13 movie as the Apatow clan will give us. The talent behind and in front of the camera is evident, but the effort simply isn’t there.
This Paramount release does boast an incredibly nice picture quality. The anamorphic presentation is consistent with sharp imagery, nice colors and an all around terrific level of detail.
The 5.1 mix does deliver in the realm of physical comedy pratfalls. That, along with the wide variety of songs on the soundtrack make for a lively piece of audio. Dialogue delivery is top of the line, as well.
Any Judd Apatow production seems to get a worthy treatment in the extras department, and Paramount makes a very good contribution with this release titled the Extended Survival Edition. In addition to the Unrated/Extended Cut of the movie, which includes 8 minutes of additional footage, we get a commentary with director Steven Brill, screenwriter Kristofor Brown and co-stars Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley & David Dorfman. We also get “The Writers Get A Chance To Talk: Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen”, which is a phone conversation between the two, as well as 13 Deleted & Extended Scenes, a Line-O-Rama and Gag Reel. And exclusive to this release are additional featurettes, “Rap Off”, “Bully”, “Sprinkler Day”, “Directing Kids” and “The Real Don: Danny McBride”. Lastly, we have a Theatrical Trailer and bonus previews.
Drillbit Taylor is a comedy I really wanted to like in the same vein I enjoyed the previous comedies from the Judd Apatow collection. As I mentioned earlier, every talent runs into a career low point, and for Apatow it will be easy enough to overcome this minor setback.