DVD Review: Drillbit Taylor
I’d been wondering for a while what kind of experience watching a comedy with no laughs would be. I realize there are hundreds and hundreds of so-called comedies out there that I simply would not find funny, but I just avoid seeing them (though I did pay to see Scary Movie 2 in theatres, but that was because the group I was with arrived late to the theatre and that was literally the only thing we could see, and I did laugh at one joke David Cross had in that one). I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of my own tastes at this point, and I typically don’t subject myself to movies I’m almost certain I won’t enjoy.
Drillbit Taylor is the movie that answered my curiosity. It has the distinction of being the first film released in the wake of Owen Wilson’s suicide attempt earlier this year, and normally this is where I say something like how that’s too bad because the film deserved more attention than it got or something. Except that Drillbit Taylor is a bad movie, and is deservedly seen as one of comedy superproducer Judd Apatow’s misfires. (I heard a rumour that you get a letter from Apatow’s lawyer if you don’t refer to him as “comedy superproducer”.)
As I mentioned in my Semi-Pro review, comedies are the most subjective genre. As much as I disliked Drillbit Taylor (I remember checking to see how much time was left at least a half-dozen times during its 110-minute running time…oh, and Judd Apatow? Comedies don’t ever need to bump up against the two-hour mark. Ever. I quite enjoyed Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but both of those were waaaay too long), I acknowledge that some people out there, even some people reading this, will think it’s funny. I also realize I’m not in the film’s target demographic – it’s a PG-rated high school comedy, basically Superbad for 12-year-olds, which apparently also means it’s like Superbad but with all the funny stuff taken out. The Superbad comparison really stuck in my head while watching Drillbit Taylor. Like that (much funnier) film, it was co-written by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen, and features three characters with similar dynamics: the best-friend pairing of the obnoxious fat guy and the awkward skinny guy, and the more awkward-yet-also obnoxious nerd who sort of tags along with them.
The plot of Drillbit Taylor feels like it has the nugget of a decent idea in there somewhere: a trio of nerds entering high school (a fat kid, a skinny kid, and a smaller, geekier skinny kid) are plagued by a sociopathic bully and his sidekick, so they hire a homeless military vet who calls himself Drillbit Taylor (Wilson, totally phoning it in) to be their bodyguard and also train them to fight back. The main problem with the premise, however, is that giving Owen Wilson a 5 o’clock shadow and dressing him in slightly tattered fatigues does not make him anything close to believable as a homeless man. Granted, I haven’t been to the area of Southern California where the film is set (which apparently has a large and diverse homeless population, at least that’s what the director and screenwriter say on the commentary), so maybe it’s filled with handsome, young beach bums with chiselled physiques who live in cardboard boxes and beg for spare change. I live in Toronto, and the homeless people I’ve seen here aren’t exactly the types you’d want to build a Hollywood studio comedy around.
But all my griping about logical holes aside, the bottom line is that Drillbit Taylor didn’t make me laugh once, though I think I snickered at a line by Danny McBride, an up-and-coming comedy star who has a small role here as one of Drillbit’s scumbag homeless buddies (there’s a subplot about how Drillbit’s a good homeless guy, while his pals are just losers and would-be scam artists, which culminates in his predictable redemption). Whereas Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and the McLovin kid are actually all funny dudes, none of the kids in Drillbit Taylor have any comedic talent that I could see. A funny and charismatic actor can elevate a so-so script, but neither the cast nor the screenplay here is any good. The jokes are obvious, sometimes even lifted wholesale from other movies and TV shows, and they all fall flat. Wilson’s basically coasting on his charm (which is not inconsiderable, but it’s not the same as a “performance”) in this watered-down, toothless high school comedy. I don’t think a movie has to be R-rated to be funny; I actually think many R-rated comedies use raunchiness as a pathetic crutch in place of actual humour. Watching this movie, all I could think of were better movies that hit the same marks that Drillbit Taylor was aiming for (and missing) I could be watching instead. But in fairness, because I know I’m not the kind of person this movie’s aimed at, I’m giving it an extra “+”. You’re welcome, Drillbit Taylor.
As is probably clear at this point, I didn’t like Drillbit Taylor at all, and that went for the extras as well. There’s actually quite a bit of bonus material on the DVD, but none of it was what I would call interesting or insightful.
There’s a commentary track with director Steve Brill (who directed many Adam Sandler comedies like Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds) and co-screenwriter Kristofor Brown. The pair are boring as hell on their own (so much so that partway through I got up to start doing dishes) and the beginning of the track features a couple of uncomfortably long silences as the pair evidently just sit and watch their movie. Brill and Brown are joined periodically by the teen actors for the film, and they’re even less interesting in real life as they are in the film. There’s an old showbiz adage about how you shouldn’t work with children or animals – Brill both in the commentary and in the other extras displays his short patience with his young actors, and hilariously overcompensates by saying over and over again how much he enjoyed working with them – and that should be transferred over to audio commentaries as well. None of the kids adds anything insightful or interesting, and just add to Brill and Brown’s annoying habit of pointing out which scenes were filmed when (“this was the first week of shooting. No wait, I think it was the second…”), apparently mistaking that sort of observation for interesting. It’s not.
An advertised featurette on the film’s screenwriters (Brown and Seth Rogen) is actually just Brown basically interviewing Rogen on the phone (ridiculous!) about Drillbit Taylor, which, judging by how often Brown has to coach his co-writer about the film, Rogen seems to hardly remember working on (the feature ends with Rogen talking for two minutes about how much he loved the new Rambo movie). The feature does have a nice, relaxed tone of two funny buddies just shooting the breeze, but it’s hard not to read into Rogen’s (wise) decision not to participate more on the DVD.
There are also 17 minutes or so worth of deleted and extended scenes, which includes the one thing I found genuinely funny on the whole DVD: an extended take of Danny McBride’s scene where his sleazy homeless guy poses as a high school teacher, hitting on students and dropping nuggets of wisdom like “Tequila is the most jealous of all liquors.” There’s a feature called ‘Line-O-Rama,’ which I think was supposed to whip through all the movie’s “great lines” in four minutes or so, but due to the movie’s tin ear for comedy, it’s more like a William Hung greatest-hits album: pointless.
Also included is a gag reel, which is four minutes of the kid actors flubbing lines and messing up takes. Normally gag reels are at least kind of funny, but this one proves there’s nothing in this life you can count on. Rounding out the extras are three-minute bits about shooting a scene where the high school halls are flooded by sprinklers, a brief, un-narrated look at the actor playing the chief bully, a similarly random piece on Danny McBride (which is disappointing in its non-hilariousness), and a five-and-a-half-minute segment called ‘Directing Kids’ where we get to see Brill lose his patience with the child actors a few times. Oh, and there’s an extended version of the rap-off in the film, where the fat kid has an 8 Mile-esque rap battle with the chief bully. As a fan of hip-hop, I personally found this scene in the movie both painful to watch and incredibly offensive, and the extended version made me want to gouge out my eyes and shove pencils in my ears.
Drillbit Taylor is a bad movie with a DVD packed with boring special features. If you’re in the market for a good comedy, check out the improv poker comedy The Grand (some more of my thoughts on that film are here). If you’re in the mood for some quality Owen Wilson comedy, check out his first collaboration with director Wes Anderson, Bottle Rocket. But do yourself a favour and avoid Drillbit Taylor.
Labels: DVD review, Wes Anderson