'Drillbit Taylor' is a film that, unfortunately, has been largely overshadowed by the real-life troubles of its star. By now, everyone knows of Owen Wilson's personal problems over the past year, and at the time of 'Drillbit Taylor's brief theatrical release last year, the idea of the depressive Wilson appearing in a feel-good family comedy probably seemed incongruent at best or, at worst, in bad taste. Yet, the almost complete dismissal of the film by audiences and critics alike is a bit of a shame, because though 'Drillbit Taylor' is no overloooked classic, on its own terms it's a good-natured and enjoyable little comedy.
Produced by Judd Apatow and co-penned by Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown, 'Drillbit Taylor' revisits the high school territory that they so spectacularly mined in 'Superbad,' and instead introduces us to a trio of freshman about to undergo a first semester that's more akin to a military hazing. There's the festively plump Ryan (Troy Gentile), the painfully-thin Wade (Nate Hartley) and meek Emmit (David Dorfman), who are immediately targeted for "execution" by the bulling Filkins (Alex Frost). Forced to endure a never-ending series of indignities, the pals decide to hire a "bodyguard" to protect them, but thanks to their limited means end up only able to afford the services of the hapless Drillbit Taylor (Wilson).
Masquerading as an authentic ex-grunt, Drillbit is actually a homeless loser who is at first out to exploit the boys for a quick buck. In what begins to feel like a watered-down version of 'Stripes,' Drillbit puts his charges through a series of ridiculous (and amusing) boot camp-like training missions, all the while doling out sage-like advice that would make Sgt. Hulka wince. Eventually, Drillbit hatches a plan to finally help Wade, Ryan, and Emmit give Filkins his comeuppance, by going undercover at the school as a substitute instructor. Of course, Drillbit has his own ulterior motives in mind after he spies an attractive teacher (Leslie Mann), making it his own covert mission to score with her.
All of this is fairly obvious comedy. Nothing in 'Drillbit Taylor' will surprise anyone over the age of 12 years-old, but like most of these sorts of reassuring, sentimental entertainments, it's the tone that ultimately sells the thin premise. Apatow and Rogen largely eschew the more raunchy comedies that made them famous and drag Wilson into PG-13 territory, and the results, while rather quaint are, kinda likable. The characters may be caricatures, but Rogen knows how to paint them with some realistic strokes, particularly his sharp one-liners and his ability to empathize with adolescent pain. The young cast (especially Hartley and Gentile) are also personable, while Wilson tones down the more obnoxious ticks of his past performances (the dreadful 'You, Me & Dupree' springs to mind) and finds some genuine heart in Drillbit. Sure, it's tough at times to not see an unanticipated darkness on the edges of Wilson's performance (given his tabloid troubles), but for me it was never a fatal distraction.
Unfortunately, enjoying 'Drillbit Taylor' still requires that viewers overlook some pretty sloppy filmmaking. The narrative certainly feels schizophrenic, with Rogen's more sharp-edged humor contrasting uneasily with the wholly pedestrian story elements. Often, 'Drillbit Taylor' doesn't know what it wants to be -- endearing family schmaltz, or a big bully version of 'Superbad'? The romantic subplot also feels completely shoehorned in, and only takes away from Drillbit's developing humanity (that Mann is stuck with such a poorly-drawn character doesn't help). All of these mix-and-match parts hardly help the film coalesce, and there are as many dull patches as there hilarious bits.
What ultimately saves 'Drillbit Taylor' and barely earns it a "worth a rental" recommendation is that there are a few more funny bits than not. It's also a film that tries so hard to be good-natured that it's a nice respite from all the shrill, completely insipid drivel that passes for family films these days ('Daddy Day Camp,' anyone?) And hey, at least those kids whose parents still won't let them see 'Superbad' or 'Knocked Up' now have an Apatow comedy of their very own. I wish I could say 'Drillbit Taylor' is a great movie, but it is rather cute and fun, and for me that was barely enough.
Paramount offers 'Drillbit Taylor' in a 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35:1). This is a very solid presentation of a bright, colorful film.
Though 'Drillbit Taylor' is not overtly stylized, it does boast a pretty wide color palette, which may be its most attractive feature. Hues are nice and clean, if sometimes perhaps too saturated, lending a lack of realism to the film. But fleshtones are accurate, and there are moments here that are certainly eye-catching. Detail is as good as you'd expect for a new release, with fine textures always visible and only a slight loss of delineation in the shadows. The source is in excellent shape, too, with rich blacks and contrast that is only slightly on the hot side. Compression artifacts are not a problem, though I did see a few minor instances of posterization during slow dissolves and some jaggies. All in all, 'Drillbit Taylor' looks quite nice.
An English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) enlivens 'Drillbit Taylor,' but this is another typical comedy with lackluster sound design. There just isn't much to involve the senses here.
The mix is competent. Dialogue is a primary attribute, and it's well-anchored in the center channel and always intelligible. There is fairly robust dynamic range, and low bass that's appropriate to the material. Surround use is sporadic, with some prominent discrete effects during the louder comedy bits. Sustained ambiance is dull, however, and score bleed standard. 'Drillbit Taylor' sounds absolutely fine, if front-heavy, but offers nothing above and beyond what you'd expect.
Dubbed the "Extended Survival Edition," there is a ton of material on this Blu-ray (which is hitting stores day-and-date with the standard DVD). Even better the video material is in full 1080, so it looks great, too. (Optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also offered.)
'Drillbit Taylor' is somewhat weird mix -- a story that's essentially a family film, with a streak of more adult humor. For me, the results often fell between the two schools, even if I still laughed enough to say this is worth a rental. This Blu-ray is strong, however, with fine video and audio, and plenty of supplements. Worth a look for Owen Wilson fans, or those who just want a harmless time-waster on a Saturday night.