'Drillbit Taylor' stands up for itself

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

Every generation needs its "My Bodyguard," its "Three O'Clock High," a come-of-age/face-your-bullies comedy about boys being boys being beaten up by other boys.

Courtesy Of Paramount
Courtesy Of Paramount

Thus, "Drillbit Taylor" - a laugh-out-loud riff on just that subject, just those boys and one fearsomely psychotic bully.

It's an obvious homage to "My Bodyguard," with Adam Baldwin, who had the title role in that '80s classic, in a cameo. "Drillbit Taylor" is about three dorky high school freshmen who hire a homeless bull artist to protect them, train them and make life tolerable in a new school. It's a Judd Apatow production that leans more toward the sweet than the edgy, more derivative than original. But it's still an amusing hour and a half at the movies.

The "freakishly skinny" Wade, aka "Skeletor," and the cherubic Ryan, aka "T. Dog," barely survive their nightmarish first few days at affluent McKinley High. Wade (Nate Hartley) sticks up for a bullied kid (David Dorfman) and that brings the thuggish, emancipated Terry down on them all.

Terry, given a teenage viciousness that's part real toughness, part high school myth, is played to the turn-on-the-fear/turn-on-the-charm hilt by Alex Frost.

As beat-down follows humiliation, the freshman trio reach out to a principal who finds the taunts funny. So they go to the Internet to find a bodyguard. A hilarious "job interview" montage brings Drillbit to them. He's an "ex-Army Ranger," he assures them, trained in assorted martial arts, including "Mexican judo, as in 'Joo don't know who you're messing with.'"

Actually, he's just a charming bum and a creative liar. He's happy to take their money, sell their parents' possessions, all in an effort to pull together the cash to move to Canada. He gives them useless advice, like having "a hold-back guy," somebody to supposedly hold you back from wailing on the dude you're threatening.

Drillbit infiltrates their lives and their school, even though his help is rarely in time or of use. But it's the thought that counts, right? He poses as a substitute teacher and hits it off with the fetching, lovesick Lisa (Leslie Mann, Mrs. Apatow, always a stitch). The boys, the bodyguard and the teacher all have some learning, some facing up to their fears, to do.

The accident of timing brings "Drillbit" out a week after "Never Back Down," a shockingly similar but more violent take on the same tale of the bully and the bullied in Viral Video High. But we're taking bullying more seriously as a culture these days, so these movies feel like throwbacks.

"Drillbit" is a safe and sentimental movie, by Team Apatow standards (he produced, Seth Rogen came up with the story, Steven "Little Nicky" Brill directed). The Rogen "Superbad" formula of skinny, brainy guy paired with fast-talking cherub isn't as comically subversive here, or as raunchy. These "freaks and geeks" are younger, more like the TV show that gave Apatow his start.

But movies like this remind us that Owen Wilson is nothing less than a national treasure. Cast anybody else in this con-man/homeless man/zen surfer bodyguard role and the movie doesn't work. Check out the way his baby blues mist over when he spins a whopper about being discharged from the Army "for unauthorized heroism. They call it 'an Army of One.' But they don't mean it."

We may not look at bullies the way we once did, but Sheriff Andy's advice to his boy Opie about the fear of the beating being worse than the black eye still has relevance. Standing up for yourself and others may mean short-term pain. But that's better than a lifetime of timidity and regret.



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