Directed by Steven Brill
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: July 1, 2008
Review Date: June 13, 2008
That harrowing freshman year in high school still haunts many an adult, and Steven Brill’s Drillbit Taylor will bring back ultra bad memories for many during much of its running time. The movie itself is also something of a bad memory, too, being alternately inane, absurd, and far-fetched. For some, that might be a recommendation right there, but most of Drillbit Taylor is comedy filmmaking on an out-of-control autopilot. Director Steven Brill hasn’t done much to enliven a pedestrian story despite its dealing with situations many viewers will readily identify with.
Three reasonably intelligent but relatively unprepossessing freshmen (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, David Dorfman) finds themselves cannon fodder for master senior class bullies Filkins (Alex Frost) and his toady Ronnie (Josh Peck). Without help from a single adult in their orbit willing to listen and investigate the problem, the boys take it on themselves to hire a bodyguard for their own protection. Alas, their meager allowances can only afford them homeless war deserter Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson). Drillbit, of course, is as initially uninterested in helping the boys as any of the other adults on the planet. He concocts a scheme with his homeless buddies (including Danny R. McBride and Cedric Yarborough) to clean out the home of the affluent Wade (Hartley) while pretending to teach the boys school survival skills and insinuating himself into their school by posing as a substitute teacher.
With a script so one track and predictable (courtesy of Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen), it’s all a matter of time before the bodacious bullies get their comeuppance. However, before we get to that climactic moment, there are lots of unsettling confrontations where comedy seems to sit uneasily beside humiliation and outright violence. It’s not a particularly feel-good movie, even when substitute teacher Taylor is able to gain a few small victories against the terrible twosome in English class (since when do freshmen and seniors take the same English course?) and in P.E. But all reality goes completely on vacation with such unfeeling parents, no teachers who see anything amiss in the hallways (where there are punchouts, kids being stuffed into lockers, fires and other acts of terrorism), and a principal who’s about as lucid as a can of paint. All of the characters could have done with much more fleshing out instead of the writers’ lazily focusing on one personality trait to contain their entire characters.
Owen Wilson does his shambling, laconic comedy thing that we’ve seen so often before, to no better or worse effect than usual. The three put-upon youngsters Hartley, Dorfman, and Gentile act their limited characters’ ranges quite well; they have a lot to offer that sadly isn’t exploited well with such a surface-scratching screenplay. Alex Frost does indeed convey unreasonable menace with a touch of insanity that makes him a particularly effective bully while Leslie Mann fills the obligatory love interest for Wilson's character without having to do much except look appealing which she does effortlessly.
There is one particularly memorable inside joke. In 1980, Tony Bill directed a wonderful little comedy called My Bodyguard in which a young high schooler hired a burly school tough to protect him from menacing school bullies. The tough was played by the young Adam Baldwin who, not coincidentally, shows up in a brief cameo as one of the men interviewing for the role of the bodyguard for the three kids in this movie. Might the movie have been more interesting or funnier had he been selected? We'll never know.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered faithfully in this anamorphic DVD transfer. Though color is strongly saturated, the image seems to have been overly processed giving the film a slightly soft, golden tinge and particularly rendering flesh tones a browner hue than they should have. Sharpness isn’t notable either in this transfer though blacks are suitably deep and shadow detail acceptable. The movie has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is surround in name only. The mix is heavily directed toward the front three channels with almost nothing being sent to the rears and the LFE channel being virtually silent. It’s a very average comedy audio track.
Director Steven Brill and writer Kristofor Brown contribute an audio commentary that begins very slowly but then picks up steam once the opening credits are concluded. At various times during the film, they’re joined individually by the film’s three young stars David Dorfman, Troy Gentile, and Nate Hartley, and there is pleasurable conversation about the making of the film among the two adults and with the kids when they each arrive.
“The Writers Get a Chance to Talk” is an audio-only conversation between the script’s two co-writers Brown and Rogen having a telephone conversation about their work on the film. It lasts 14 minutes and features stills from the movie playing on screen during their talk.
“The disc features 13 deleted/extended scenes which may be watched in one large group lasting 17 minutes or individually. All are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Line-O-Rama” is an interesting 4 ½-minute montage of ad-libs, many of which didn’t make it in the final film, by various cast members.
There is a moderately pleasant 4-minute anamorphic gag reel.
“Rap Off” is the first in a series of brief behind-the-scenes featurettes. This one shows actor Troy Gentile being given instruction in rapping before he had to film an important showdown scene with nemesis Alex Frost. We see the rehearsals on set, direction being given by Steven Brill, and the shooting of the scene. This anamorphic featurette lasts 3 ½ minutes.
“Sprinkler Day” shows the behind-the-scenes preparations and then the filming of the school hallway sprinkler scene in the film. This anamorphic featurette runs 3 ½ minutes.
“Bully” shows Josh Peck getting into character to play one of the two bullies in the film. This anamorphic featurette runs 3 minutes.
“Directing Kids” is a tongue-in-cheek skit by director Steven Brill showing him abusing the kids in the film as he attempts to direct them. This lark lasts 3 minutes and is in anamorphic video.
“The Real Don: Danny McBride” spends 5 ¾ minutes in anamorphic video with supporting actor Danny McBride showing him getting into character for his part as a homeless guy and shows his last night filming on the set.
The disc features previews of two Paramount features, one in release and one upcoming: Iron Man and Star Trek. The trailer for Drillbit Taylor is not included on the disc but can be found on other Paramount DVDs of the past few months.
Drillbit Taylor runs through a familiar scenario of bullies being taken down by their seemingly weaker underlings with very few original bits and only a pleasant cast of professionals to recommend it. Fans of the principal actors may enjoy it, but this is a comedy that mostly misses the mark.