No, wait, that isn’t exactly true.
Owen Wilson is the most ingenious and versatile comedy actor of our generation.
Ok, that’s a lie as well.
“Drillbit Taylor”, produced by Judd Apatow, the man behind “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” and co-written by Seth Rogen, will likely be fondly remembered along with their other works.
Well, that’s a stretch of the truth as well.
If you found the following exchange the slightest amusing, then “Drillbit Taylor” is just the film for you. It features such an exchange between the lead character, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson) and he three High School freshmen who hire him to protect them. It isn’t funny in the film either. In fact, if anything, it’s annoying because we have to listen to Wilson deliver it in his patented way, which makes it last three times as long. And whining.
Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a homeless man begging on the streets of Santa Monica to eke out a living hangs out with a group of other homeless men on Third Street Promenade, trying to come up with schemes and plans to earn the group some money. Taylor is so well known, and so charming, he starts to get to know some of the people who give him money on a regular basis, flirting with them. Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile), who are younger versions of the same two kids in “Superbad” which was also co-written by Seth Rogen, are best buddies and start high school together, with excitement and trepidation. Their first day, they defend a smaller, geekier kid, Emmit (David Dorfman) from the school bully, Filkins (Alex Frost), a high school Senior who has the run of the school. This makes them a target of the bully and things get progressively worse from there. After trying to stand up for themselves, they decide to hire a bodyguard and post an ad on the Internet. Drillbit sees the ad and interviews and gets the job. Drillbit is initially only interested to gain access to these kids’ homes, and their family stashes of silver, electronics, etc. but his ‘heart of gold’ soon takes over and he tries to help them. In order to keep a closer eye on them, he poses as a teacher at their school and catches the attention of an English teacher, Lisa (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife and the sister in “Knocked Up”). The situation with Filkins deteriorates and he becomes more sadistic toward the younger boys. What will happen? Will Drillbit’s web of lies catch up with him and cause the three kids to lose all faith in him? Will his friends accept his refusal to go ahead with the plans to rob the parents’ homes? Will Lisa ever catch on that she is having sex with a homeless man?
Directed by Steven Brill (the ‘director’ of many Adam Sandler films), “Drillbit Taylor” is about as fun as having a drill bit to the head. This is one dreadful comedy. It is, perhaps, even worse because it is produced by Judd Apatow, the man who produced and/ or directed “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up” and “Superbad”. After that trio of superlative comedies, you would expect he knows what mistakes to avoid when creating a comedy. And “Drillbit” is co-written by Seth Rogen, who co-wrote “Superbad” based on some experiences in his own high school years. Since the two lead kids look so much like younger versions of the same two kids in “Superbad”, it almost seems as though Rogen is relating more events of his childhood. So why isn’t this film better? A lot better?
I go to a lot of films and frequently when I tell people I have seen a film they pause and look at me and ask “Why?” in a tone that I can’t mistake. Basically, this question is shorthand for “That film has ‘awful’ stamped all over it. If I can tell, why can’t you?” And often, they are right. But I go to a lot of films and I go to a lot of films I know will be bad simply to learn from them. You can’t fully appreciate the good without exposure to the bad. But in the case of “Drillbit”, I actually thought it might be good, because of the involvement of Apatow and Rogen. How wrong I was. Why didn’t I recognize the signs? Everyone else did.
Owen Wilson plays Drillbit Taylor, a homeless veteran who lives in a tent on the hill overlooking Santa Monica Pier. One day, while he is out begging for handouts, the cops come and confiscate his tent and all his possessions. Throughout all of this, you keep wondering where the punch line is. Wilson uses his trademark deadpan delivery, delivering his lines in a fairly monotonous tone. And we keep expecting the punch line to show up, keep expecting a joke to make us laugh. This never happens. At times, it even seems like he is whining a bit, when he is trying to convince his employers (the three kids) he knows what he is talking about. It is funny, for about five minutes, but when it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes old, fast.
The main thrust of the comedy seems to be that Taylor is scamming these kids and, of course, doesn’t really know what he is talking about. But really, how pathetic is it that this grown man is trying to scam $100 out of three high school freshmen? Yes, he is also trying to set-up other things, possibly more lucrative scams and operations, but Taylor is a pretty typical Wilson character. All talk, all ego, little actual skill. And because nothing new is added to the character, we get bored. Worse, because the character is so pathetic, it isn’t funny to begin with.
Worse than Taylor being so pathetic is how dumb all of the other adults are. Leslie Mann plays Lisa, an English teacher who immediately becomes attracted to Taylor when he poses as a teacher in the school. Stephen Root plays the school principal, a man who seems to disregard the obvious threat oozing from the high school senior bully and also immediately assumes Taylor is a teacher, without asking for any id. I wonder how many strangers he lets into the school to teach the students? A scene when the principal calls the three kids parents in is amusing, but it only proves how stupid they are as well. This conceit becomes old real fast as well. And the filmmakers keep returning to these jokes, almost as though they are determined to convince us they are funny.
Seth Rogen is one of the co-writers of this film and every indication would seem to indicate this is also based on some events in his childhood, the two leads are younger carbon copies of the two leads in “Superbad”. Yet, along with the age of the leads, the level of humor is also regressing. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Regressing from “Superbad”? “Superbad” has some very insightful comedy, poking jabs at being a teenager and teenage humor. More importantly, the film offered humorous insight into how these two kids lived and acted. “Drillbit Taylor” doesn’t even try to reach these levels. A lot of the humor is simply juvenile and doesn’t reach beyond that.
I am well aware there are high school bullies out there, having lived through them, but the actions Filkins takes in “Drillbit” are just sadistic and not funny. At one point, he is chasing the three kids around in his car, trying to run them over. Then, when Drillbit finally confronts him, Filkins sadistically beats him. Later, the three kids decide to attack Filkins and the film begins to resemble an Ultimate Fighting match in the bully’s front yard.
And the big turning point in the film centers on Taylor having the proverbial “heart of gold” and making everything right. Yawn. This might work, but he doesn’t really seem to care about these kids. Maybe he does, it is just too difficult to tell through his stone face veneer.
So many things about this film simply misfire; it would take a long time to delve into all of them. Too long. You would probably lose interest in the review and start to look elsewhere. Although, I hope you won’t be looking to the multiplex to see this film.