"How bad can it be?" the harried production executive muses. They got Owen Wilson top-lining. The producer is Judd Apatow, who these days can do no wrong in Hollywood (Knocked Up, Superbad, et al). The director, Steven Brill, and the writers, Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen, are all School of Apatow-Sandler-Ferrell. That is to say they know their way around the sweetly raunchy manner beloved of adolescent American males.
They also have an agreeably low budget and their project has a serviceable plot device three nerds, fiendishly set upon by a high school bully, hire a bodyguard to protect them. He turns out to be not the special forces vet he claims to be, but a homeless man physically inept and cowardly to boot. The only thing Drillbit Taylor neglects is to make any sort of comic capital out of a basic situation that a lot of people not all of them currently afflicted by acne have endured in life. Mostly the kids (Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley and David Dorfman) are humiliated in a lot of unfunny ways while Drillbit, pretending to be a substitute teacher, tries to stay above the fray, mainly by getting his rocks off with an improbably randy English teacher (Leslie Mann).
Given the uninventive, not to say downright repetitive nature of the narrative, about all Drillbit has going for it is Wilson's star presence. Or should we say his often agreeable lack of presence. He has a thin voice and a passive manner, enlivened by a slightly eerie belief that he's smarter or anyway more manipulative than he appears to be. I find him to be a redeeming, even lovable, presence in not-so-hot movies. But he is not a great physical comedian, and it is asking a lot of his recessive screen character to carry film virtually single-handed. He needs the kind of help he got in a well-written , cleverly-plotted comedy like The Wedding Crashers, which is precisely what is not provided in this lazy, predictable movie.
Oh, well, maybe our imaginary production executive is right. The elements for a successful comedy are all present and accounted for in Drillbit Taylor and doubtless word of them has been buzzing along the Internet for weeks. But elements are what Hollywood makes marketing campaigns out of, not entertaining movies. And the fact that this movie has been sent into the world on Easter weekend, when much of its population is preoccupied with piety, probably betokens a certain loss of faith in its cheerless impieties.
Better luck next time, Owen.