Drillbit Taylor

Drillbit Taylor


Reviewed by: Jennifer McGillan

The premise of Drillbit Taylor is simple: high-school losers get hassled by a bully and hire a bodyguard to protect them; wacky hijinks ensue. It's a comedy about bullying which, on first impression, sounds like the sort of thing that would be unimaginably awful. Surprisingly, it is instead a meditation on the state of (American) manhood and masculinity, and more specifically, the process of becoming a man, and is remarkable for delivering pointed observations with a comic touch.

Written by Seth Rogan (Superbad), it slots neatly into place in a kind of reverse trilogy with two other films on similar themes: Knocked Up, which takes on fatherhood, and Superbad itself, which addresses the complicated business of passionate, though asexual, friendships between adolescent males. The connections between the films are strengthened by resemblances of physical types (if not actual appearances) by the characters: Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) are younger echoes of both Superbad's Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) and Rogan himself, who appeared as one of the main characters in Knocked Up.

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As with those movies, the characters in Drillbit Taylor seem somewhat adrift in the world, in need of guidance, even the adults. And the hole in their worlds, in this film, has a common shape: a sympathetic father-figure. Wade - the tall, skinny one, not so much effeminate as gentle-natured, with hair that is slightly too long (and too styled) - has to contend with a hyper-macho step-father and step-brothers, while Ryan, the short, fat one, is depicted as having an absentee father, who parents by telephone. As for Emmit, the latecomer and the geek (also, possibly, the "gay" one, depending on how dramatic dancing in a Cats T-shirt is meant to be interpreted), the viewer doesn't get to meet either of his parents.

The bullies are also fatherless; Filkins (Alex Frost from Stop-Loss), who walks the fine line between adorably misguided and pure evil is, as we find out, an emancipated minor with absentee parents. As for Ronnie (Josh Peck from the Drake and Josh show), his sidekick, only his mother gets any significant screen time.

And then there is Drillbit Taylor, the bodyguard-to-be. He's living Peter Pan-style in the California beach equivalent of a cardboard box, within sight (unless I miss my guess) of the Santa Monica pier and subsisting on charity, low-level cons, and dreams of running away to Canada.

The movie is well paced; the action flows fairly quickly, and not much time is wasted with unnecessary exposition. After Wade and Ryan show up for their first day of high school in matching bowling shirts, the story settles into a familiar, if not entirely predicable, rhythm. The boys encounter the bullies, endure some humiliation, and then, as children have been told to from time immemorial, they apply to a "trusted adult" (the principal) for relief.

The principal is less than sympathetic; disasterously, he calls in the bully "to defend himself", and anyone who has ever been bullied knows what is coming next. A few scenes of aggressive bullying later – played for laughs, though this reviewer was left unsure of whether or not to be amused – the boys decide it's time to call in a professional.

Enter Drillbit Taylor, substitute father figure, presenting himself as a Special Forces veteran with a history of guarding the stars, who is willing to take the pitiful wage they can offer and be their "bodyguard". What this amounts to is a lot of skipping class for the boys, so they can hang out with Drillbit for self-defense "training", while Drillbit casually steals from them and their parents in order to raise money for his trip to Canada. One day, following Drillbit's advice, the bullied take on the bullies in a non-physical arena in the guise of, essentially, killing them with kindness. Specifically, Ryan challenges Filkins to a freestyle rap contest and, in the words of a different character, 'schools him'.

Their victory is short lived, which, in turn, propels Drillbit - who had previously been maintaining a façade of devotion over a core of casual if larcenous affection - into actually coming to school, where he poses as a substitute "floater" in order to protect the boys and dish out some low-level torment to the bullies. (He also acquires a love-interest in the form of a fellow teacher; her role isn't exactly extraneous, but, well, the actress isn't given much to do beyond gazing at Drillbit adoringly.)

The rest of the film is as much about Drillbit growing up as it is about Wade trying to win the girl of his dreams and all of the boys figuring out how to get out of high-school alive. Unusually, it doesn't end with simple triumph, and characters suffer real consequences of their actions before the inevitable sun-light and laughter-filled conclusion.

In summary: Very silly, but with a solid, thoughtful core, and better than I expected it would be. An excellent movie for parents to watch (and discuss) with their adolescent children.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2008
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Two kids hire a low-rent bodyguard to protect them from bullies.
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Director: Steven Brill

Writer: Kristofor Brown, Seth Rogen

Starring: Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, Ian Roberts, Owen Wilson, Casey Boersma, Dylan Boersma, Lisa Ann Walter, Beth Littleford

Year: 2008

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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