It may be hard to believe, but not every comedy produced by Judd Apatow and co-written by Seth Rogen is automatically a masterpiece. If you think that’s a ridiculous statement, I suggest you check out Drillbit Taylor, Steven Brill’s teen comedy about three high schoolers who pay Owen Wilson in return for protection against the school bullies. Although the film boasts several decent gags and isn’t as disastrous as most critics made it out to be, I do admit it’s not as innovative and hilarious as most of Apatow’s recent productions. For Wade (Nate Hartley), Ryan (Troy Gentile), and Emmit (David Dorfman), today is the first day of high school, but it’s also the beginning of an ugly battle against bullies Filkins (Alex Frost) and Ronnie (Josh Peck), who take immense pleasure in terrorizing incoming freshmen. No matter how hard the three novices try to look cool and fit in, they just can’t get past the daily beating. Sick and tired to of being pushed and kicked around everywhere they walk, the boys decide to end the terror by hiring a professional bodyguard. Unfortunately, the only one they can afford is Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a former army ranger who’s looking to make some quick money so he can travel to Canada and start a new life.
In a nutshell, Drillbit Taylor bears tons of similarities to the Judd Apatow-produced success comedy Superbad, which Rogen also co-wrote. While the latter focuses on a couple of high school seniors struggling to buy booze and get laid, the former tells the story of a couple of high school freshmen struggling to get rid of the bullies. Interestingly enough, even the central characters and the actors portraying them seem strikingly familiar. Chubby Troy Gentile looks just like a younger version of Jonah Hill, while the skinny and shy Nate Hartley could easily pass as a young Michael Cera. That said, Drillbit Taylor is not as profanity-laden as Superbad, although it does include a solid dose of crude language and sexual references.
The big question remaining is whether Owen Wilson and his buddies are just as funny as Hill and Cera, and the answer is a definite no. The main storyline here is not as exciting, the dialogue often sounds too familiar, and most of the one-liners fail to provoke big laughs. Nonetheless, the plot is entertaining throughout, and I have to admit I ended up smiling more than I originally thought I would. The main problem I have with Brill’s film is that it sometimes drifts away from its original concept, spending too much time on things that could have been shortened or completely left out. The flick already takes a while to get going, and just when you think the protagonists are gearing up to take the offensive, they waste their time by watching Drillbit teach them boring self-defense lessons.
Looking at the various posters or the DVD art, you would expect Owen Wilson to play the most important character in the film, but that’s quite simply not the case. Although the title may suggest otherwise, Drillbit Taylor isn’t really about Drillbit Taylor. Instead, it’s about Wade, Ryan, and Emmit finding the necessary courage to stand up to their school’s tyrants and deliver a punch or two themselves. Sure, Drillbit agrees to be their bodyguard for a while and teach them some smart moves, but he’s definitely more a sidekick than the real star. In the end, the viewers care less about him than they do about our three high school freshmen. They are the ones who want to fight back, and that’s exactly what we want to watch them do.
Although the script doesn’t always supply them with the funniest or most original lines, Hartley, Gentile, and Dorfman deliver awesome performances. They obviously all had a fabulous time shooting this film, and they do a great job injecting their hilarious characters with plenty of energy. Besides taking way too many punches, Wilson doesn’t do much to impress his viewers. He’s just doing what he always does, but it’s not necessarily helping the laughs. Be sure though to watch out for some excellent cameos, notably Frank Whaley as one of the bodyguards the kids interview in the beginning of the movie.
While Drillbit Taylor is clearly not as hilarious or sophisticated as Superbad or any other Apatow or Rogen flick, it’s still a mildly entertaining comedy that maintains a fast pace and serves as a decent Saturday afternoon diversion. The tagline of the film says you get what you pay for, and in this case, you may get a little less for your money than you expected. I’ve been pretty satisfied with Paramount’s Blu-ray releases so far, and from a technical point of view, this extended survival edition is a blast. The 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation delivers the goods, boasting an incredibly sharp and clean picture quality throughout. The flawless 5.1 TrueHD audio transfer is just as compelling. If you can’t resist high definition any longer, this disc is definitely worth the investment.
Besides 19 mediocre deleted scenes and a decent four-minute gag reel, the bonus material on the disc also includes a hilarious phone conversation between screenwriters Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen, who start off by chatting about how they came up with the nickname Drillbit, how much they regret that some of their original ideas didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie, and how much resistance they got to some ideas they had before and during the development of the script. It’s a very informative conversation that serves the same purpose of a great behind-the-scenes look.
The disc also includes several features that are unique to the extended survival edition of the film. Most of these are short two to three-minute clips from the set, during which cast and crew members briefly talk about their characters and experience during the shooting. While some of them offer viewers some valuable information about the production of the flick, most of them are just pointless and boring. If you don’t have that much time on your hands, I suggest you check out “Directing Kids,” “Bully,” “Rap Off” and “Sprinkler Day.” These do at least give you a better view of what really went on behind-the-scenes.
Rounding out the special features section is the feature film commentary by director Steven Brill, screenwriter Kristofor Brown and actors Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley and David Dorfman. Brill and Brown have a lot of fun chatting about the film, and while not everything they say is particularly compelling, they do tell several funny anecdotes about the shooting of Drillbit Taylor. It’s also quite clear from his commentary that Steven Brill had the greatest time directing the kids, which he repeats over and over again. The three actors occasionally get to speak as well, but they’re not so much a big contribution. Too bad Seth Rogen didn’t have the time to join them, because he would have certainly spiced up the whole thing.
Although the extended survival edition sounds like it includes plenty of features to keep you busy for a while, I have to admit the bonus material is not that impressive. Besides the commentary and the phone conversation with Brown and Rogen, I couldn’t find anything that offered me a decent behind-the-scenes look. Much like the film itself, most of the extra stuff on this Blu-ray disc is just silly and not surprising. A quick note on the extended version: I didn’t see the film in theaters and can’t compare the theatrical version with this extended cut, but the running time on the DVD cover says 109 minutes, which is the same the time displayed over at imdb.com for the standard cut.
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