If Superbad were remade as a gimmicky Nickelodeon movie, it would probably look something like Drillbit Taylor. Both movies focus on a pair of nerdy high-school losers—one fat and boisterous, the other skinny and timid—who are joined by a somehow even nerdier and more socially maladjusted sidekick in their quest to become popular and meet girls. Both were co-written by current comedy sensation Seth Rogen, and both convey rather old-fashioned, wholesome messages in a somewhat vulgar package. But while Superbad went overboard on the raunch, Drillbit is only a few innocent swear words and some stylized violence past being entirely appropriate for children.
Unlike Superbad, which had no greater plot purpose than getting its main characters to a bitchin’ party, Drillbit is built on a silly high concept: After getting beat up one too many times during their first few days of high school, Wade (Hartley), the skinny one, and Ryan (Gentile), the fat one, place an online ad for a bodyguard. The only candidate they can afford, though, is the title character (Wilson), a homeless veteran who convinces the boys that he has special-forces training that will help them take down their tormentors.
You can guess what happens from there, although it takes far too long and engages in far too many detours along the way. At times Drillbit seems like two separate movies—one about teenagers learning to overcome their shyness, embrace their differences and stand up for themselves, and another about a tortured drifter coming to terms with his own insecurities and finding love (Drillbit poses as a substitute teacher and engages in a hot romance with a co-worker). Neither is particularly funny or affecting, although Wilson’s trademark laconic presence is good for a few laughs from Drillbit’s occasional absurd non sequiturs.
It all builds to a climax disturbingly reminiscent of last week’s Never Back Down, which likewise promoted solving high-school caste problems with violence. There’s a certain satisfaction in watching the nerds vanquish the bully, but Hartley and Gentile are no Michael Cera and Jonah Hill; with his faux-gangster line readings, Gentile is monumentally irritating, never more so than during an odd interlude featuring an 8 Mile-style rap battle. Pointless diversions like that abound in Drillbit Taylor, although they never distract the movie from ending up right where you expect it to.
Owen Wilson, Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, Leslie Mann
Directed by Steven Brill