Drillbit Taylor is the story if three high school kids abused and beaten up by bullies. You’ve seen that before. What you haven’t seen before is what they decide to do about it, and I’m not just talking about hiring Owen Wilson.
Hiring Owen Wilson though, is step one. Wade (Nate Hartley) is skinny beyond all reason, Ryan (Troy Gentile) is a fat, short kid with a big mouth, and Emmit bears an unfortunate resemblance to a hyper-active hobbit. They’re instant targets for asshole upper classmen, and they have absolutely no hope of defending themselves. Finally sick of being pushed, shoved, punched, humiliated, and stuffed into things (including but not limited to each others’ shirts) they attempt to hire a bodyguard by placing an ad on the internet. They hire the only one they can afford, a guy named Drillbit Taylor who talks a good game, but unknown to them a few hours before was digging around in a dumpster. Drillbit is homeless and he’s only in it to milk enough money out of them for a plane ticket to Canada, where he believes his life will be nothing but roses and lollipops. If nothing else, there’s a good chance the streets he sleeps on will be cleaner.
You may think you have mapped out in your head where Drillbit Taylor goes from there, but Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen’s script is full of surprises. This is not an Owen Wilson star vehicle, crafted to stick him in situations to be funny with kids. He does that, but Drillbit is more of a secondary character with Wade and Ryan as the movie’s leads. If you’ve seen Superbad, imagine Seth and Evan five years younger and rated PG. Rogen’s influence is obvious in the script, and he uses that same Superbad dynamic to tell a completely different story of friendship, and simple survival.
Luckily Nate Hartley and Troy Gentile are just as good at playing these characters as Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were, and while the script uses that same sort of chemistry the injection of Owen Wilson into it makes everything different. If there’s any problem with the movie it’s that it takes a little too long to get the point, and is at times tempted to spend too much time with Owen instead of the kids, who are the real story here. The setup feels as if it takes an hour, and while I understand that making up a reasonable excuse for a dirty, homeless whino to end up in a high school playing guard may take more explanation than the usual comedy MacGuffin, Drillbit Taylor takes too long to get to the point.
Once things get rolling though, Drillbit gels. We’ve seen so many of these movies about nerds standing up to bullies by now that it’s hard to believe anyone could find anything new in the genre, but Rogen and Brown do, and director Steven Brill and his cast deliver a comedy ass kicking.