“Drillbit Taylor” is not the kind of movie that makes you laugh. Or chuckle. Or chortle, guffaw, titter, giggle or even snort. The best you can hope for, every few minutes, is a “huh-huh” that gets caught in your throat; after every five or six of them, you might clear the decks with an audible “HUH!” but that’s as close as you’ll get to actual mirth.
A listless amalgam of “My Bodyguard” (which gets a stunt-casting shout-out), “Superbad” (that film’s co-writer Seth Rogen performs similar chores here, but you’d never guess it based on “Drillbit’s” quality) and the little-seen 1988 teen comedy “Plain Clothes,” this movie goes a long way toward torpedoing all the mojo producer Judd Apatow received last summer with the one-two punch of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.”
This time around, we get the freshman version of “Superbad’s” senior trio — the fat guy, the nerd and the pipsqueak — who find themselves the victims of bullies on day one of high school. Chubby Ryan (Troy Gentile) fancies himself a rapper, while skinny nebbish Wade (Nate Hartley) hopes for popularity and a girlfriend. Everything comes crashing down when Wade tries to stick up for little Emmit (David Dorfman) as he’s being stuffed into a locker by the creepy, beady-eyed Filkins (Alex Frost), a senior psychopath.
In the hopes of evading Filkins’ reign of terror, the kids set out to hire a bodyguard. But at their bargain-basement rates, the best they can find is Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a homeless Army deserter who pretends to be an experienced, black-ops bodyguard. He takes the gig in the hopes of soaking the kids for enough money to run off to Canada, but he winds up befriending them and, while passing himself off as a substitute, falling for their pretty teacher (Leslie Mann).
“Drillbit Taylor” begins its legacy of blah by failing to provide any kind of logic for the story. What kind of high school isn’t crawling with security guards these days? How can Filkins and his lieutenant openly beat on kids in the hallways without a single teacher noticing? And no matter how good a game face Filkins puts on for parents and the principal (Stephen Root), the flimsy script wants us to believe that no adult is going to catch him in the act or at least believe our three heroes.
Wilson is a very capable comic actor, but he’s given very few notes to play here. The character he’s playing is subject to the whims of the writers, and there’s just nothing he can do with the material. And really, Rogen and Apatow, “Superbad” exists to refute stupid high school movies like this one that have no idea what real teenage life is like. How could you backslide as a writer-producer team so quickly after shaking up the very genre?
The trio of young actors also transcends the material, and I expect to see them shine in the coming years in a movie that actually deserves them. If “Drillbit Taylor” winds up being a stepping stone for them, then mazel tov. But there’s no reason for anyone else but their proud parents to have to subject themselves to this aggressively mediocre time-filler.