Seth Rogen had a big hand in the creation of two of last year’s groundbreaking comedies: “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” The latter movie rates as one of the smartest, crudest and funniest movies ever made about the labyrinthian nature of the male, adolescent mind.
Now, along comes “Drillbit Taylor,” another high school farce co-written by Rogen and starring Owen Wilson as a homeless “bum” hired as a bodyguard by two high school freshmen tired of being beaten and humiliated by two bullies.
With this paltry offering, Rogen’s average goes from 1.000 to .667, for at best this is a throwaway effort offering intermittent pleasures awash in a puddle of errant humor and the shallow stream of a clichéd narrative.
Picked on at school
Once more, we have nerd heroes, the “freakish skinny” Wade, played by Nate Hartley, and Ryan, the pudgy, curly-haired goofus portrayed by Troy Gentile. Later, they are joined by the diminutive Emmit, played by David Dorfman.
Because Wade lives in a home with two stepbrothers and a jock-bully father while Troy lives with his mother, there’s ample room for both humor and with some trenchant social observations about lost suburban kids. But here, Rogen and co-writer Kristofer Brown opt for contrived silliness, doing their best to fall into a PG-13 safety net; that is, staying just this side of offensive. This they do by eliminating f-words and frontal nudity.
Because of its inherent appeal to teens, especially adolescent boys, “Drillbit Taylor” may end up on top of the weekend’s top grossers. But it hardly represents the best of Rogen or Wilson, who has more to him than playing the clown. But here he is in a loose, clumsily designed role as the vagabond who answers an ad placed by kids anxious to get a bully off their backs. The cad is named Filkin, played with all the finesse of a barn door by Alex Frost.
Little about “Drillbit Taylor” is inventive or unique. Wilson knows how to deliver a witty line with clever timing, but he’s offered few of them here, and they come with infrequent spurts. His best, most apt and most finely honed observation is one in which he explains how an adult can enter a school and then succeed in fooling both kids and administrators that he is a teacher:
“As long as you’ve got a coffee cup in your hand, nobody says anything,” quips Drillbit. It’s the movie’s funniest line.
“Drillbit Taylor” relies on slapstick for its gags. There’s an amusing sequence in which Gentile and Hartley trade punches to the gut and groin, adhering to their mentor’s advice to hang tough. Gentile gets into a rapping contest with Frost, emerging victorious with a killer line as he grasps an unmentionable place. The gag will get laughs, but like most of the routines, they hang there in search of a plausible comedic story.
As it is, most of the movie presents situations so preposterously unlikely that stretching one’s imagination takes work. Rogen and Wilson can do better; we’ve seen them do it. Their body of work dictates that their efforts here deserve to be damned with faint praise.
DIRECTED BY Steven Brill
SCREENPLAY BY Kristofer Brown and Seth Rogen
STARRING Owen Wilson, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley, David Dorman and Alex Frost
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes