I wasn't expecting all that much from Drillbit Taylor — some laughs, perhaps, but that was about it. Still, there was a nagging part of my mind that insisted it was going to be funny. Why? Because Judd Apatow was involved as a producer. Yes, I know he did not write nor direct, but his involvement with any title generally results in a movie I like.
Considering the roll he has been on, it is only a matter of time before the backlash starts or the quality begins to slide. Considering how many projects he has in the pipeline, one would have to believe that his current track record is going to slide in the not too distant future. Fortunately, his guiding hand has not let me down with Drillbit Taylor, although the title and advertising are a little misleading with regard to what the film is really like.
The funny thing about most of the recent Apatow camp outings is that they could exist within the same universe, not unlike a comic book universe where you have all of these different heroes that continue to have their own adventures while inhabiting the same space, or at least the same timeline. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, and now Drillbit Taylor, could all inhabit the same universe. They all have a similar aesthetic, humor, and they all feel connected. The most obvious connection for Drillbit is with Superbad. You do see it, don't you?
Drillbit Taylor strikes me as a prequel to Superbad. The latter film is about a couple of high school outsiders looking to get drunk and get laid at the last party of their high school career. In Drillbit Taylor, a couple of high school freshman are looking to avoid getting killed by the school bully. The characters share similar physical traits, as well as similar attitudes and senses of humor. If Superbad is what high school does to these kids, Drillbit demonstrates the innocence and untapped potential that grows over the four years into what you see in the earlier film.
Beyond its clear-cut connection to the Apatow-verse, there is another movie connection to be had. There's a very strong kinship to the teen films of the 1980s, films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Drillbit Taylor takes a look at the awkwardness and innocence of high school. We are taken into the world of bullies, unrequited love, and the need to begin growing beyond childish things and acting a bit more mature, or at least as mature as a teenager can be. The connection is more than superficial; while the screenplay is credited to Kristofer Brown and Seth Rogen (who, coincidentally, co-wrote and starred in Superbad), there is a third name added to story credit — Edmond Dantes. Dantes is a pseudonym employed by John Hughes — yes, that John Hughes. The same John Hughes who was involved in so many touchstone films throughout the 1980s. His influence here is clear.
Drillbit Taylor opens with our introduction to the titular character, portrayed by Owen Wilson. He is a homeless man who panhandles along the nearby highway in an upscale California suburb. He and his homeless pals make a living swindling and stealing, with the occasional big idea to secure their future. Meanwhile, Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) are beginning their high school career, excited about the possibility of popularity, but confronted with the reality of geekdom, compounded by drawing the attention of Filkins (Alex Frost), the class bully.
After days of avoiding school, in fear for their lives, they get the idea to hire a bodyguard. They meet with a few individuals before Drillbit walks in and convinces them that he is the right guy for the job. What follows is a series of life lessons that teach all parties a little about life and a lot about what lies beneath their surface.
The biggest problem with the title and the way the film has been advertised is that too much attention is paid to the Drillbit character and the big name star that is Owen Wilson. It is not that he is not an important cog in the wheel, and likely the primary box office draw, but the heart and soul of this movie lies within the two main kids as they deal with their adversary as well as themselves. It is a movie that is all about the funny, but it also has heart and character, and these kids have both.
It is credit to the writers that this film is as good as it is. It is not nearly as funny as Superbad, but there are still plenty of laughs to be had. What Brown, Rogen, and Hughes – sorry, Dantes – succeed in doing is delivering a film that has a mix of character and humor in a balance that allows both to shine.
Bottom line. Drillbit Taylor is a simple story told through the high concept of kids buying a bodyguard. It is a film that has consequences, it delivers flawed characters making sometimes poor decisions, but always attempting to do the right thing. It is a funny movie that does deliver what is promised.