Starring: Owen Wilson, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley
Directed by: Steven Brill (“Little Nicky”)
Written by: Kristofor Brown (debut) and Seth Rogen (“Superbad”)
If it was the goal of teen actors Troy Gentile and Nate Hartley to forever be known as the pocket-sized versions of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, then congratulations. The new comedy “Drillbit Taylor” is “Superbad”-lite with fewer laughs and a lot more Owen Wilson that we actually needed to see.
At its core, “Drillbit” is a story about nerds, a comedy goldmine if done correctly (TV’s short-lived “Freaks and Geeks,” another produced work by Judd Apatow, is an example). But when forced into flat scenes and relying on unmemorable characters, someone’s bound to wish Arnold Poindexter or Paul Pfeiffer would make a quick cameo.
Alas, they do not and we are left with a trio of lame ducks in Wade (Hartley), Ryan (Gentile), and Emmitt (David Dorfman, the little kid from “The Ring,” who seems to have fallen victim to the Haley Joel Osment-hit-puberty-and-get-butt-ugly-syndrome). Emmitt is a sort-of third-wheel character like McLovin if McLovin was a spaz who liked showtunes.
The film opens as BFFs Wade and Ryan are getting ready to start their freshman year of high school. Believing that this is their time to shine, the boys make a promise to themselves that they will no longer be viewed as dorks or feel inapt when talking to the opposite sex. Ryan even gives himself a new nickname, T-Dog, to start the year off a new man.
Not even within five minutes of stepping inside the school, however, Wade and Ryan are singled out by Filkins (Alex Frost), a psychotic bully, and his henchman Ronnie (Josh Peck of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”…shiver). After a few weeks of being humiliated by the goons, who are written way too exaggeratedly by Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogan, the boys decide to hire a bodyguard to protect them from any more torture.
In steps Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a self-proclaimed military hero and bodyguard to the stars. Actually, Drillbit is really a compulsive liar and homeless man living in the woods and hustling for change with his bum friends. When he sees an opportunity to make some extra cash by swindling some desperate kids, he doesn’t hesitate. Since he seems legit (but mostly because he is the only bodyguard the kids can afford), Drillbit gets the job and assures the boys they are now under his wing. Pretending to be a teacher at their school, Drillbit has no real intention of living up to his job description. He’s too busy flirting in the teacher’s lounge with a cute English teacher (played by Apatow’s real leading lady Leslie Mann, who is sadly underused).
Although the first half hour or so brings some steady laughs, when the boys match wits with Drillbit is where the picture suffers. This is the type of character where Wilson should flourish, but when heaved into a clutter of implausible personas and loopy writing “Drillbit Taylor” isn’t this year’s comedy gem we all know Apatow has delivered before.