School-age wimps fighting for revenge is not a new filmic concept. School-age nerds hiring someone to help them remodel their image in not a new concept. Mashing the two together into a film where school-age wimps hire someone to help them with their revenge is also not a new concept. Just because something is not a new concept however doesn't mean that it won't be funny. Recycled material and ideas can, absolutely, be funny. Drillbit Taylor, starring Owen Wilson and newly released to DVD, simply isn't. It could have been, there are numerous examples of similar films that work brilliantly, Drillbit Taylor just doesn't.
Directed by Steven Brill (who directed the less-than-funny Adam Sandler flicks Mr. Deeds and Little Nicky), the film focuses on three stereotypical high school freshman outcasts – the fat kid who likes to rap and talk like a “gangsta,” Ryan (Troy Gentile); the super-thin nerd-looking kid, Wade (Troy Gentile), and the basic complete dweeb, Emmit (David Dorfman). These three stereotypes, at the very beginning of their high school career find themselves set upon by two more – the bully, Filkins (Alex Frost), and the bully's friend, Ronnie (Josh Peck). Unable to stand up for themselves, the wimps decide to head out to the internet to find themselves a bodyguard. They sort of succeed, finding “Drillbit” Taylor (Wilson), a homeless man who lies his way into the position in an attempt to swindle the kids.
As the film plods along, Wilson teaches the wimps various foolish, but never funny, methods of trying to defend themselves, none of which pan out, prompting Taylor to pretend to be a substitute at the school in order to watch over the children. Predictably, Taylor meets a love interest at the school and truly falls for the kids, stepping back from his master swindling plan (which, to be fair, he was forced to expand in order to help his homeless brethren).
Wilson, charismatic actor that he is, makes the movie watchable, even if he is unable to generate laughs. As a slacker surfer-type, Wilson isn't extending his range in the movie, nor does he ever seem to be exerting himself in any way. It says much about the film that despite that, he is the best part of the picture. The rest of the characters are so poorly sketched out that they never evoke any sort of emotional response from the audience. They are only ever flat, fuzzy, paper cutouts, their lack of depth and clarity make them wholly impossible to root for or against.
Perhaps the biggest letdown in the movie are not the characters, but rather the abrupt disavowal of one of the films main themes by the closing credits. During much of the movie the kids learn the lesson that violence doesn't work, that they will never solve their problems by being physical. By the all-too-obvious end of the film, it becomes clear that the reason violence doesn't work for the “heroes” is that they're simply not built for it, and that if they were bigger and stronger violence would be the way to solve their problems.
The incredibly hot (and hugely funny and clever) writer/producer/director Judd Apatow is credited as a producer of the piece, and two of his collaborators, Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen are credited with the story and writing the screenplay (John Hughes also receives as story credit). It is, however, unquestionably one of their lesser works. Perhaps either their pixie dust is wearing off, or far more likely, the piece simply wasn't given the attention it so desperately needed.
It is hard to imagine many people being enthused enough with the film to want to sit through the DVD extras as well, but they do exist. There is a commentary track with Brill, Brown, Gentile, Hartley, and Dorfman, a chat with the writers, deleted/extended scenes, a gag reel, outtakes, some behind-the-scenes looks at how a few of scenes were worked on and filmed, a discussion of directing kids, and a talk with one of the films supporting characters (these last three only appear on the “Extended Survival Edition” DVD release). It goes on and on and on, and does prove that talented people can work hard on a film and still end up with a poor result.
Despite the fact that Drillbit Taylor's main characters have problems to which we can all understand and relate, the film fails to explore them in either a meaningful or funny way. My disappointment doesn't temper my enthusiasm to see future works from the Apatow group (most notably this summer's upcoming Pineapple Express), but it does prove them wholly fallible.