When I saw the ads for Drillbit Taylor, I had sudden flashbacks to last year’s surprise late-summer hit Superbad. Not only is this another teen comedy from current Hollywood golden boy Judd Apatow, but it looks like the filmmakers dipped into a time vortex and plucked Jonah Hill and Michael Cera from their freshman year in high school.
Still, as similar as this movie seems to what we’ve seen in the past, there is a certain formula that works for Apatow, and to a lesser degree co-writer Seth Rogen. It seems that Apatow and company is quickly becoming the breakfast club of this decade. And if you like the guy’s film’s, you can be okay with that.
While this movie still pairs the fat, curly-haired kid with the timid, skinny boy, it has some noticeable differences. The first is that Drillbit Taylor is rated PG-13, not the R that was appropriately handed down to Superbad. This might help it at the box office considering the target age this movie is going for skews a bit younger.
The other big difference is this film is a vehicle for Owen Wilson, and the freaks and geeks take a back-seat to the A-lister.
The movie follows a pack of high school nerds who are getting bullied at school. They’ve tried everything, including the obvious fighting back (which is what lands two of the nerds in hot water to begin with). Their last ditch effort for survival is to hire a bodyguard. However, because they have limited funds, they are stuck with the lowest bidder: Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a homeless Army deserter who talks a good game.
Originally, Drillbit’s plan is to get close to the kids and find ways to rob them. However, as he starts working with them, they start to grow on him. Soon, he’s finding himself relating to the kids and wanting to help.
Think of Drillbit Taylor as a Miller Lite version of Superbad. It’s not nearly as fun as the raunchy comedy from 2007, but it does serve its purpose. There’s less foul language and less raunch, but there’s still that awkward interaction that makes Apatow’s films work. And like their older counterparts, the nerds are pretty good actors. In fact, they don’t just hold up to comedy-veteran Wilson, but sometimes even outshine him.
I’ll admit that the movie is a bit inconsistent, and there are some jokes that fall completely flat like a bad Adam Sandler comedy (a few of which Drillbit director Steven Brill is responsible). However, I found myself laughing at several parts, mostly due to a quality cast that makes the mediocre script work. This comes not just from the kids, but also from supporting roles from people like Leslie Mann, Stephen Root and Danny McBride.
Wilson doesn’t really stretch as an actor, but his role doesn’t call for it. He merely puts on a different facet of what we’ve seen before to a funnier degree in Wedding Crashers. Still, the guy’s made a career of this, and he really doesn’t seem out of place in the Apatow canon.
Apatow and Rogen have done so many of these films of late that they are forming their own genre, as John Hughes did in the 1980s. Sadly, the most innovative classics are probably a thing of the past already, but fans of this brand of filmmaking should enjoy it. And with the PG-13 rating, it should do well enough with the mainstream fans from college age down to junior high.
The Upside: Funny enough to work as Superbad-lite.
The Downside: The kids channel Jonah Hill and Michael Cera a little too much.
On the Side: Am I the only one who was having flashbacks to Never Back Down in the movie’s climax?