Dir. Steven Brill. US. 2008. 102 mins.
The Judd Apatow laugh factory turns out one of its younger-skewing - and less funny - products in Drillbit Taylor, a revenge-of-the-nerds comedy that teams Owen Wilson's hapless title character with a trio of bullied high school outcasts. In some ways resembling a junior and less raunchy version of Superbad, the new offering - which, like Superbad, is produced by Apatow and co-written by his frequent collaborator Seth Rogen - ends up being neither as sweet-natured nor as uproarious.
Opening wide in North America over the Easter weekend with a PG-13 rating, the Paramount release will be looking to attract a relatively broad audience. The danger, though, is that it will fail to fully satisfy either Wilson's older fan base or the younger boys who will identify most with the story. Apatow and Wilson comedies have had a chequered career internationally, so takings there - a few territories are getting the film day-and-date with North America, the rest between now and early summer - could be modest.
Apparently based on an idea conceived in the eighties by teen expert John Hughes (who gets a story credit under his Edmond Dantes pen name), the film was written by Rogen with Beavis & Butt-Head writer and co-producer Kristofor Brown and directed by Steven Brill (The Mighty Ducks and Without a Paddle).
The script splits its focus between three teen friends - chubby Ryan (Troy Gentile, from Nacho Libre), skinny Wade (newcomer Nate Hartley) and shrimpy Emmit (David Dorfman, from The Ring) - who are just starting out at high school and Wilson's Drillbit, a homeless rogue the boys unwittingly hire to protect them from a school bully.
The story's central (and pretty predictable) thread has Drillbit growing to like the kids and regret the scam he has planned and the kids learning how to get back at the bully. Several other plot strands - involving Drillbit and his homeless friends, Drillbit's romance with school teacher Lisa (Leslie Mann, from Apatow's Knocked Up), and Wade's would-be romance with a classmate - are offered up but none comes to much.
The comedy is mostly basic slapstick, efficiently though not particularly imaginatively staged by Brill. Some of the Three Stooges-inspired routines get fairly brutal, or at least appear that way when performed by young actors. Wilson is well suited to the part, but even he can't wring much comedic or dramatic substance out of the title role.
The three young stars handle their parts fairly well, with Hartley getting most of the dramatic moments and Gentile, who sometimes works a bit too hard, most of the funny bits.
Production companies/int'l distribution
Donna Arkoff Roth
Director of photography
Thomas J Nordberg