It’s funny how some movies point out their own weaknesses much better than any critic could.
Way back in 1980, the movie "My Bodyguard" explored high school bullying and unlikely friendships by having a wealthy weakling hire the toughest kid in school (played by Adam Baldwin) to protect him from other bullies. And the bonding across social classes ensues.
In "Drillbit Taylor," three high school losers adopt the same plan, except they place a classified ad for adult bodyguards. As we watch them interview applicants during one scene, Baldwin does a cameo wearing the same outfit he wore in "My Bodyguard" and says, "You’re going to hire a bodyguard to protect you from bullies? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard."
It’s a nice joke, but you see the trouble. "Drillbit Taylor" is yet another teen movie that recycles its entire story from the ’80s. (Does John Hughes collect royalties from each new teen movie that comes out?)
The boys decide to hire the title character (Owen Wilson), a homeless, likeable loser. Drillbit pretends to be a teacher, falls in love with Lisa (Leslie Mann), who is a real teacher, and becomes a father figure to the boys. And the bonding across social classes and age groups ensue.
To be fair, "Drillbit Taylor" stands out from its ancestors for scenes of bullying that are disturbingly violent for a PG-13 movie. Our three heroes are repeatedly punched, hazed and verbally abused in every area of school property, and there never seem to be teachers or principals around.
As with "Charlie Bartlett," I just find it hard to laugh at such things, especially since neither movie takes the problem very seriously.
At times, the movie does manage to overcome its worn out premise and win us over. Even though Wilson is the big name, the three teen actors (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman) steal the show. None are particularly strong actors, but they are believable as high school nobodies and they wear their insecurities for all to see. Despite a few awkward scenes, the amateurish acting generally adds to their authenticity.
Mann, as usual, steals every scene she’s in. Which begs the question: Where are the starring roles for this woman? Her husband (Judd Apatow) is currently one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Can he not build a project around her, rather than just use her as a supporting player? She so outshines the rest of the cast here that I, and this is me talking, wish the movie had focused more on the romance between Drillbit and Lisa.
This is the latest Apatow production (these days Apatow is better known as The Guy Who Brought You "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up"), and it barely deserves to be mentioned alongside his other movies.
That may be because it’s directed by Steven Brill, who has spent most of his time with the Adam Sandler crew. Brill previously brought us such cinematic classics as "Mr. Deeds" and "Little Nicky."
Then again, it might also be time to point out that the Apatow formula — adolescent loser grows up — sometimes wears thin. He has now covered every facet of growing up insecure, unattractive and male in America.
Oh well. All streaks must come to an end.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.