Drillbit Taylor [PG-13]
Film critics should approach a comedy as Charlie Brown approaches a football, always wary of spinning into the air.
When it comes to matters of the laugh, it can be difficult to forecast what will last and what will quickly burn to the ground. After all, comedies run on one of two things – wit or idiocy. When it’s the latter, as it far more often is, you are forced to separate the profound and lasting idiocy from the banal and the momentary. Needless to say, you err toward the latter. But then look at the original reviews of, say, Raising Arizona, and see how few critics foresaw the Coens as future Best Directors.
That said, I feel confident in saying Drillbit Taylor is no Raising Arizona. Despite an occasional handful of teen-romp hysteria, the film is an unusually pure dose of idiocy. With this Drillbit, it’s only the audience that gets screwed.
Drillbit never advances beyond its flat nerd-revenge premise, an eighties nostalgia effort with less appeal than a resurgent Soviet Union. Wade and Ryan (Nate Hartley and Troy Gentile, respectively) have a problem as they head to high school. Wade looks like an overgrown Harry Potter. Ryan looks like he’s taken the Jonah Hill donut-training kit to heart, and mouth. Naturally, their Omega-male physiques get sniffed out by the school’s psycho bully (Alex Frost).
After being on the face-down end of increasingly creative pummelings, the punching bags decide to pool money and hire a bodyguard. So bedecked in aviator shades and Panama hat walks Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a panhandling Army deserter living (and showering) on the beach. His goal is to be mildly incompetent enough to collect a paycheck and head for Canada.
If you were actually drilling into Drillbit Taylor, it would take about a tenth of a second to reach the other side. The characters are flat, as is much of the comedy coming from the mind of writer Seth Rogen, working under the banner of producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up). The biggest shame is the waste of Leslie Mann, one of the best comic actresses around, playing an English teacher and romantic interest. In fact, like almost all Apatow-brand movies, it has no care or insight for its women. They exist as pretty zeros, mainly there to ratify the nerd fantasy.
When comparing Apatow-brand movies to Wes Anderson-Owen Wilson collaborations like Bottle Rocket (and who doesn’t do that daily) I’m fond of presenting this dichotomy. Anderson films make me wonder what French films inspired them. Apatow movies make me wonder what sitcoms inspired them. Drillbit Taylor makes the point nicely. Here, we have Wilson in a defrosted-Dignan role (he even dresses like him at one point), but without Bottle Rocket’s cultivated deadpan wit or New Wave outlaw bonhomie. This is a paycheck job of the most demoralizing kind, the type that devalues the performer’s best work.