I’ll go ahead and make this admission: I can sympathize with the young protagonists of “Drillbit Taylor.” Maybe some of you can, too. That’s right, I was not one of the popular kids in school, nor was I particularly adept at most social situations. Luckily, I encountered no bullies like the character of Filkins, who engages in some of the most outlandish tactics you could imagine. It’s that level of impossibility that ultimately kills the film.
The film is produced by Judd Apatow, who brought us last summer’s hits “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” both of which were marked by a certain universality that anchored the humor. “Drillbit Taylor” contains such sympathetic situations, but the film is doomed from the beginning by a plot that denies the possibility of such universality.
The unfortunate victims, Wade, Ryan and Emmit have just started high school and are at the mercy of Filkins, until they hatch a plan to hire a bodyguard to protect them. Since they are strapped for cash, all they can afford is Drillbit (Owen Wilson), an army deserter and local homeless person who latches onto the kids as a source of cash and easily pilfered items.
Drillbit poses as a substitute teacher and becomes popular with the teachers, especially an English teacher (Leslie Mann) who finds him attractive. Meanwhile, Filkins gets a little comeuppance, but gets angrier at his frustrated attempts to pummel the boys.
All of this heads toward a very predictable conclusion. Drillbit is exposed, illusions are shattered, and the boys must fend for themselves. This mirrors the pattern of the entire film: interesting developments or opportunities for humor are set up and then cancelled out by some mediocre gag.
This script is co-written by Seth Rogen, who should really know better, having starred in some of Apatow’s previous hits, including “Knocked Up.” One wonders, watching this film, if he was just as strapped for cash at the time of writing it as its titular character is.
The film is not necessarily awful, it’s just so frustratingly average. There’s always the promise, the possibility, but no one seems able to make it materialize. Not even Owen Wilson, one of the most likable actors working today, can turn the material into something worthwhile.
Part of the problem is its young cast. It’s not that they are incompetent, it’s that they are rather inexperienced, and it shows. They are meant to anchor the film, but they’re not skillful enough to provide a range of emotion that makes us care. Having them at the center of the film gives the whole thing an amateurish feeling. Like the film, you know there is potential there, but they just can’t fulfill it.
It’s the kind of film that is hard to review. There’s so many out there like it, and writing about it makes me feel like I’m repeating myself. Perhaps this drivel must exist for us to recognize the true comic gems. I just wish they weren’t so few and far between.