by Mel Valentin
Directed by Steven Brill ("Without a Paddle," "]Mr. Deeds"), "Drillbit Taylor"…wait, let’s stop right there. Steven Brill is the director who "gave" us "Little Nicky," one of the most egregiously unfunniest comedies made at the turn of the millennium. Even if you're feeling generous and suggest that "Little Nicky" wasn't entirely Brill’s fault, you'd be right. After all, actor/comedian Adam Sandler deserves all the opprobrium he received for his nadir-level performance as “Little Nicky,” the dim-witted, softhearted, screechy-voiced son of Satan with the worst haircut every put on film (it’s even more unfunny than it sounds and it sounds unfunny). Why stop there, though, when there’s blame enough for everyone and anyone involved with "Little Nicky?"Why about the screenwriter for Little Nicky, then? Oh right, Brill also wrote Little Nicky, so he deserves twice the blame. He probably came in cheap on a writing/directing deal. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine how and why he got the directing gig on Little Nicky. Oh wait, Brill must be a close personal friend of Adam Sandler’s. But we're not here to bury Brill, we're here to praise him. Okay, not really. We're here to discuss Kristofer Brown and Seth Rogen's screenplay written under Judd Apatow’s (Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin) stewardship (he produced Drillbit Taylor) and Owen Wilson's performance as a down-and-out mercenary desperate for work.
"Definitely less than the sum of its comedic parts."
Best friends, Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile) are typical Rogen-Apatow high-school heroes. Wade’s a gangly geek. Ryan’s a chubby rapper wannabe. Both are about to start high school as the low men on the high school totem pole: freshmen. Wade and Ryan’s hopes to join up with the cool kids in school end the moment they encounter Filkins (Alex Frost), the school’s bully. Wade speaks up just as Filkins is humiliating the diminutive Emmit (David Dorfman). Wade’s reward? Becoming Filkins’ number 1 target. Guilty by association, Ryan becomes Filkins’ number 2. Filkins piles on the humiliations at and out of school.
Desperate, Wade and Ryan decide to hire a bodyguard through an Internet ad. Low on cash, they end up hiring Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a homeless army veteran looking to score enough cash so he can relocate himself and his meager possessions to Canada. Taylor gives Wade and Ryan (and Emmit too) lessons in conflict and harm avoidance, but when those don’t work out, he sneaks into the school as a substitute teacher. Almost immediately, he meets Lisa (Leslie Mann, Mrs. Apatow), another teacher who takes a romantic interest in him. In short order, Taylor becomes a mentor and friend to Wade and Ryan, keeps Filkins’ and his henchman, Ronnie (Josh Peck), in check, and begins to reconsider relocating to Canada. Taylor’s so-called friends, led by Don (Danny R. McBride), pose a problem, as does his real identity.
If Drillbit Taylor sounds oddly familiar to moviegoers with long memories or an affinity for high school comedy-dramas, it should. Drillbit Taylor borrows the premise from 1980’s My Bodyguard, an underrated, underseen film directed by Tony Bill which co-starred Adam Baldwin (Chuck, Firefly, Angel, Full Metal Jacket) as the title character. Brown and Rogen tip their hats to My Bodyguard by including Baldwin, sporting the green army jacket he wore in My Bodyguard, as one of the bodyguard applicants they end up rejecting. My Bodyguard tipped more toward drama than comedy and what comedy it had have didn’t depend on vulgarity or crudity as Drillbit Taylor does, albeit limited by the “PG-13” rating (Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin were all rated “R”).
Unfortunately, all the good will Brown and Rogen get for paying homage to My Bodyguard isn’t enough to save Drillbit Taylor from Steven Brill’s lethargic, limp direction. When it comes to the comedy-centered scenes, Brill lets the scenes drag on. Instead of pushing the set-ups and payoffs so they run closely together, he lets the actors pause or holds shots too long, undercutting the effectiveness of Brown and Rogen’s gags or jokes. It doesn’t help that the young actors playing Wade and Ryan Nate Hartley and Troy Gentile were picked more for their physical appearance than for their ability to deliver dialogue. To be fair, that may be less on Hartley and Gentile and more on Brill’s inability to direct young actors.Either way, that leaves "Drillbit Taylor" on the bottom rung of projects associated with Apatow’s brand name. Hopefully, "Drillbit Taylor" doesn’t mean Apatow has stretched himself too thin over too many projects (a danger any successful producer faces). Then again, maybe all he has to do next time is not hire Steven Brill as his director or, if he does, oversee production and editing more closely, as he obviously didn’t do here. As bad as that sounds (and it does, because it should), there are far worst ways to spend your money. There are far better ones too.
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originally posted: 03/21/08 13:41:55