Monday, 20 May 2024

'Drillbit Taylor' doesn't always strike comedy gold


A comedy about three young outcasts confronting their high school misfortunes sounds like the storyline for “Superbad.” That hilarious movie was produced by Judd Apatow, who’s in the business of churning out recent runaway comedy hits such as “Knocked Up” and “Talladega Nights.”

Not surprisingly, Apatow's fingerprints are all over “Drillbit Taylor,” the latest in the pantheon of comedies with distinctly youthful flavor. Yep, a trio of anxious freshmen enters high school, only to find that they have descended to a level of hell that even Dante could not contemplate.

Best friends Wade (Nate Hartley), the freakishly skinny, bespectacled wannabe magician, and chubby Ryan (Troy Gentile), channeling the persona of Jack Black, are humiliated from day one when they show up at school wearing the same bowling shirt.

They become instant targets for the seriously deranged Filkins (Alex Frost), a psychotic bully prone to violently erratic behavior, especially after Wade intervenes on behalf of the extremely nerdy and short Emmit (David Dorfman), who’s been unceremoniously stuffed inside a school locker.

Of course, Emmit desperately latches on to Wade and Ryan because there’s absolutely no way anyone else will even talk to the dweeb. The wisecracking Ryan would rather ditch their new acquaintance, but circumstances conspire to keep them together. Suddenly, the idea of high school as this great place to be turns into a daily living hell.

After a series of unfortunate events caused by Filkins’ reign of terror, the boys realize that the habitual apathy of the school system dooms their remaining days unless they take drastic action. Principal Doppler (Stephen Root) is oblivious to the mayhem created by Filkins and more inclined to blame the victims.

After some Internet research, the freshmen decide they need to hire a personal bodyguard. The film’s funniest moments involve a succession of interviews with a wide variety of applicants at a local coffee shop. Some prospects are truly inept; others are prohibitively expensive.

Though living very comfortably in an upscale neighborhood, the boys can only hire a bodyguard that an allowance can afford. Enter Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), wearing old Army fatigues and spouting a resume of military service worthy of Rambo.

In reality and to no one’s surprise, Drillbit is a low-rent mercenary whose Army service is questionable. He claims to be skilled in covert black-ops and exotic martial arts, which includes dubious Mexican judo. A homeless bum who spends time with his buddies on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Drillbit lives a squatter’s life in a tent on a cliff overlooking the ocean. His motivation in helping the rich kids is to score enough money so that he can move to Canada, where freeloading appears to be easier.

To keep his cash flow running, Drillbit initiates his credulous charges in a ridiculous boot camp, leading to several hilarious missteps. Notwithstanding his grandiose claims, Drillbit is no match for Filkins, let alone any minor altercations.

Before the kids become too suspicious that their valuables seem to mysteriously disappear, Drillbit ends up being mistaken for a substitute teacher, and suddenly he’s teaching a number of courses. He tells his homeless buddies that the secret to impersonating a teacher is to constantly hold a coffee mug while hanging out in the teacher’s lounge.

A few complications set in when his substitute act draws attention from the pretty English teacher (Leslie Mann), and suddenly he’s more interested in the romantic possibilities. When his clients become weary of the drifter’s act, Drillbit not unexpectedly, having developed a bond with the kids, has to fess up to his deception, and in the process becomes the savior he had promised to be.

Suffering from misdirection and too many twists, “Drillbit Taylor” drills the empty patches of comedy too many times. To be sure, there are plenty of funny things happening, but the plot lacks cohesion. The kids are likable, though the pint-sized member of the trio gets too annoying. Owen Wilson delivers his trademark slacker routine as if he was sleepwalking, but at least he’s amusing for the most part.


Asian martial arts cinema is becoming more accessible by means of DVD releases.

From acclaimed director Johnnie To, who racks up bushels of Hong Kong Film Awards nominations, “PTU: Police Tactical Unit” follows a band of night patrol cops on a tough night, when a gang leader is mysteriously murdered and a detective loses his gun to four young thugs.

The PTU finds itself in the middle of a war between two gangs, building towards an explosive and violent conclusion.

“13: Game of Death” tempts a jobless man in serious debt to complete 13 increasingly gruesome tasks as he is lured into a violent game of life and death. Adapted from a Thai manga graphic novel, this film examines how far one would go for wealth.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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