Drillbit Taylor


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Tepid comedy “Drillbit Taylor” might have been titled “Superbad: The Early Years,” given the movie’s familiar teaming of an overweight motormouth, a slimmer, more sensitive best pal, and a bizarre, third-wheel goofball bringing up the rear. Unfortunately, the characters in the more recent movie aren’t nearly as charming or as smart as Seth, Evan, and McLovin. Despite a producing credit for Judd Apatow, an appearance by Leslie Mann, and writing contributions by Seth Rogen, “Drillbit Taylor” is strictly bottom-shelf material completely unworthy of the talents involved. Interestingly, another writing credit belongs to Edmond Dantes, the pseudonym of the often-AWOL 1980s teen-movie kingpin John Hughes. Needless to say, “Drillbit Taylor” is no “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – from which it cops several gags. Heck, it isn’t even “Weird Science.”

Owen Wilson plays the movie’s title character, a homeless con artist who agrees to protect the nerdy schoolboys from the unwanted attentions of a thuggish bully. The movie never decides whether the audience should primarily identify with the title character or the hapless kids who hire him. Caroming haphazardly between the two points of view, “Drillbit Taylor” manages to forego character development almost entirely: McLovin was lavished with the kind of tiny details that made him three-dimensional in “Superbad,” but his “Drillbit Taylor” counterpart remains irritatingly shapeless. The same is true for nearly everyone else.

“Drillbit Taylor” goes overboard with unnecessary montages, and in one of them, Adam Baldwin shows up sporting the same style of military jacket worn by his character Linderman in the cult classic “My Bodyguard.” Presumably, Baldwin is on hand to acknowledge the moviemakers’ debt to the earlier film, but he merely serves as a painful reminder of the superiority of the original article. “Drillbit Taylor” gleefully references all kinds of pop movie culture of the past thirty years or so, from Wilson’s Colonel Kilgore attire to the “Fight Club”-esque intimacy of male bonding through violence. The references, apropos of nothing, just sail past.

If the movie has a silver lining, it is manifested in the comic touch of Leslie Mann. As a teacher whose poor judgment has led her through a series of relationships with dirtballs and losers, Mann could easily anchor her own feature instead of being stuck with the thankless task of playing the love interest to the less interesting Drillbit. Mann and Wilson share a weird chemistry, and both actors are good enough to convince us that their dysfunctional relationship, despite its lack of logic and plausibility, could happen. The way that the two lustily eyeball each other during their first meeting in the faculty lounge is one of the few genuinely funny moments in the whole movie.

The failure of “Drillbit Taylor,” however, rests with its timid conventionality. “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” were often praised for their willingness to incorporate a level of sensitivity nearly always absent from the raunchy slapstick designed for young male audiences. “Drillbit Taylor” feels like it pulls all its punches, and it is most definitely impaired by its PG-13 rating. Director Steven Brill never finds the right rhythm for the half-baked screenplay, and the laughs are few and far between.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/24/08.

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