Drillbit Taylor (5/10)
by Tony Medley
Dashiell Hammett, in
reviewing the book, “Murder Mansion,” observed, “If it is unreasonable
for a character to have said this, done that, or suppressed the other,
and if such unreasonableness will hatch out the desired chapteral
surprise, then overboard with the character’s sanity.” Well, maybe
that’s a little obtuse. What he’s saying is that even if something is
impossible, some creators of entertainment will disdain what’s
reasonable and put down what works with his story, no matter how
unrealistic in real life.
That’s what writers
Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen and director Steven Brill have done in
this film that contains lots of good performances. Drillbit Taylor (Owen
Wilson) is a homeless bum who hangs out in Santa Monica. He sleeps on
the Palisades overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and passes the day in a
restaurant in the Third Street Mall, actually sitting at a table with
his other bum friends. It’s true that there are a lot of homeless people
hanging around the Third Street Mall. I used to meet one of my friends,
the late Dr. Earl Cohen, at the Starbucks on the Mall and we’d drink
coffee as the bums hung out around a huge plant that was shaped like a
dinosaur just outside Starbucks (Starbucks moved its location to get
away from the environment created by these people). But there was
nothing charming about these people, who were much younger than Taylor
and his friends and had tattoos and piercings all over their bodies. My
impression, confirmed by Earl, who was a psychiatrist, was that they
were, mostly, schizophrenic. They certainly didn’t hang out inside the
restaurants around there, like Taylor and his friends do in this film.
Taylor’s gang are not mentally ill. Rather, it is composed of just a
bunch of thieving bums.
This film is yet another
take on high-schoolers being victimized by bullies and how they react.
Obese Ryan (Troy Gentile, who gives probably the best performance in the
film) and his buddy, Wade (Nate Hartley), who is almost criminally
skinny, attend their first day of high school. In the process they
become victims of the school’s bully, Filkins (Alex Frost), and his
sidekick, Ronnie (Josh Peck), and pick up a new friend, a tag-along
Emmit (David Dorfman). Also, on that first day, Wade falls for an Asian
student, Brooke (Valerie Tian).
The truly silly premise
(and it’s only one of many silly things in this movie) is that the three
go out to look for a bodyguard. They interview lots of people, which
provides comedic moments, not to worry how ludicrous is would be for
three high school freshmen to be interviewing hitmen in a coffee shop.
They end up hiring Drillbit, who scams them. Drillbit masquerades as a
substitute teacher and in the process falls for another teacher, Lisa
(Leslie Mann, who is producer Judd Apatow’s wife in real life).
This has so many
unrealistic setups that it is hard to sit back and enjoy Wilson’s talent
and Gentile’s ability to deliver the laugh line (as well as Frost’s
exceptional performance as the bully).
I like Wilson, but I’m
beginning to understand why he might have tried to end it all. This is a
guy with the talent and looks to be a superstar, but he continues to be
betrayed by weak material like this.
There is a message in this
film, and it is that all authority figures are clueless and impotent
when it comes to handling teenagers and their problems. Everyone in the
film, from parents to teachers to the principal of the school, outside
of the three protagonists, is naïve and ineffective, no, let’s be frank,
stupid, in dealing with an obvious problem of a brutal bully.
This is a movie that has
flashes of brilliance. In the hands of someone like Mark Waters (2003’s
“Freaky Friday,” 2004’s “Mean Girls”) who understands teenagers and what
can be funny but still reasonable, or Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a
Cause,” 1955), who had the talent to portray teenagers vs. adults in a
dramatic but rational manner, this could have been brilliant. What a