There's a lot that can be said of director/producer Judd Apatow and writer Seth Rogen, but, more than anything else, they come across as two guys who really, really like comedies. And it's obvious from any of their collaborative efforts—The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad—that they've spent the majority of their adolescent and adult lives learning at the altar of every fratboy comedy since Animal House—everything from Ghostbusters and Stripes all the way through Anchorman.
Sure, their supporters champion them—rightly—for investing their movies with far more heart and storytelling prowess than is common for trashy mainstream comedies, and their detractors criticize them—also rightly—for their bawdy, sophomoric sense of humor. But more fundamental to their craft than either of those things is the simple fact that they've mastered the rules of silly, raunchy comedies to the point that they can borrow gags and stylistic devices from other movies and put them together in such a way that it seems fresh. So it's no surprise that, after a string of hits, the Apatow-Rogen team has assumed their own place within the pantheon of modern comedies; it seems like that was pretty much their plan all along.
And yet it's entirely possible that their latest film, Drillbit Taylor—produced by Apatow, co-written by Rogen, and directed by Steven Brill—could be their first fumble. Though it's certainly not a disaster, it is a move away from the style of comedy that has made them stars, and, as such, it finds them on shaky ground on more than one occasion. That's because this isn't another R-rated raunch-fest—it's a high-school comedy, aimed at a slightly younger audience and restricted by a PG-13 rating. And as such, it's not as funny as their other films but it's still crude enough that it's difficult to recommend it to the high school age-group to which it is targeted. But it's also a fairly likeable film, and, in a way, it makes the comedic know-how of Apatow and Rogen more impressive than ever before.
If you've seen the trailer, you know the plot: A trio of awkward, nerdy high-school freshmen (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, and David Dorfman—three young actors who show real promise) hire a bodyguard to protect them from a pair of nasty bullies. The bodyguard, of course, is Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), who isn't really a bodyguard at all, but, rather, a homeless man who thinks he can con the kids out of all their money before robbing their homes. What the trailers don't show, however, is that Drillbit once again exhibits an impressive knowledge of its genre, and it ties together so many plot devices from similar movies—Taylor training the kids and teaching them to stand up for themselves, his change of heart as he gets to know them, a steamy romantic subplot—that it comes across as confident and assured, the work of craftsmen who know their medium very well indeed. To their credit, the filmmakers work all of these familiar elements together in such a way that it doesn't seem clichéd or boring, even if, when you stop to think about it, you can predict everything that happens long before it ever comes to be.
But there are problems. As well as they seem to know the high-school comedy territory, Apatow's team can't seem to divorce themselves from the bawdiness of their R-rated hits. And so while it's certainly much, much tamer than, say, Knocked Up—in fact, it's even tame for a PG-13 film, certainly less crass than Will Ferrell's movies—there's still enough foul language and innuendo to make parents of teens hesitate. And, because of the PG-13 rating, the writers can't be nearly as outrageous as they might like to be, which means that moviegoers looking for something as wild as The 40-Year-Old Virgin will find it far too mild. It falls somewhere between two extremes, and, as a result, it's hard to tell exactly who this movie is meant to appeal to.
The movie is likeable, if not exactly brilliant. It starts out slow but the laughs become bigger and more frequent as the film progresses; especially funny is young Troy Gentile besting his bully in a "rap-off." And even when the script falls flat, Wilson is always charming and hard to dislike, even if he does play the same character in just about everything he's ever done. And best of all, Leslie Mann—Apatow's wife and a scene-stealer in Knocked Up—is typically radiant and funny as a teacher who quickly finds herself smitten with Drillbit. It adds up to a movie that's modestly funny and never unpleasant to watch, but a bit misguided in terms of its audience.Discussion starters
- What positive lessons—if any—does Drillbit teach the kids? Does he set a positive example with regard to handling bullies, standing up for oneself, or helping others?
- What lessons, if any, does Drillbit himself learn?
- What does the Bible say about handling people who treat you with cruelty?
- What are the parents like in this film? Are any of them good parents?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Drillbit Taylor is rated PG-13 for sexual references, language, drug references, and partial nudity. It's pretty tame compared to most PG-13 comedies, but parents still ought to take the rating very seriously. There are several swear words, including misuses of the Lord's name, and some crude sexual innuendos. There are also two scenes that show a man's bare backside.
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