Owen, wake up!
Owen Wilson is one of the more frustrating actors in the business right now. On one hand, he can be total genius in the films of Wes Anderson (which he sometimes co-writes) or deadly funny in a well-scripted straightforward comedy (Wedding Crashers, Meet the Parents). Then, there’s that other side of his repertoire; the deadbeat clown whose every line seems forced and whose routine is clichéd, meandering and lame.
We get the latter Wilson in Drillbit Taylor, a film that had a lot of promise because of the involvement of Judd Apatow (producer) and Seth Rogen (co-writer). Apart from a few laughs and a couple of good cameos, this is a dull, bad film along the lines of Wilson’s You, Me and Dupree. The director and screenwriters latch on to that dopey aspect of Wilson’s persona, and they all conspire to deliver something that is dreadfully one-note and unfunny.
Wade, Ryan and Emmit (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, David Dorfman), a trio of high school freshman, are routinely getting their asses kicked and humiliated at school by local bullies Filkins and Ronnie (Alex Frost and Josh Peck). They resolve to hire a bodyguard and settle on one Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), who claims to be Special Forces trained and former protector of the likes of Sylvester Stallone.
Of course, Drillbit is just a homeless guy looking to make some quick cash so he can split the United States and head for Canada. After hanging around the kids for a few days, he starts liking them and decides to help them as best he can. This means he’s going to watch them as many hours of the day as possible, including when they’re at school. He wears some fancy clothes, carries around a coffee cup and passes himself off as a substitute teacher.
The film fancies itself as sort of a My Bodyguard remake but doesn’t belong in the same class as that 1980 classic. That film made Matt Dillon a star and gave hope to dorks everywhere that their days of wedgies and bus stop beatings would come to an end if they just stood up for themselves. Drillbit Taylor even features a cameo that brings back fond memories of that movie.
There are many problems with this film, but the biggest is Wilson, who seems to be sleepwalking through the role. The actor has appeared bored with his acting assignments before, but this one catches him in his most blasé moment. It’s as though he knows he signed up for a dud and can’t wait for the shoot days to be over so he can catch a nap. When Wilson is humming, there are few funnier. When he’s bored, the world is bored along with him.
Besides Wilson, the leads don’t generate much excitement. Hartley, Gentile and Dorfman have sporadic moments of grace, but their characters lack the sort of substance required to get an audience rooting for them. There’s an especially tired bit involving Gentile’s Ryan, where he considers himself a great white rapper called T-Dog. Frost, as Filkins, lacks the realistic menace that made Dillon so scary as a bully. Filkins is just a cartoon character.
Leslie Mann, wife of Apatow and so good in Knocked Up, is given nothing to work with as another substitute teacher who becomes Drillbit’s love interest. It’s a sad state of affairs when the funniest moment in your movie is the result of a Frank Whaley cameo, who totally rocks the 15 seconds he spends on screen.
The onscreen presence of a Rogen or Paul Rudd might’ve helped things along. Alas, they were probably off working in one of Apatow’s seemingly endless other movies currently in production. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Time for Wilson to call his buddy Wes Anderson and start brainstorming on the next career salvager.