Whenever I see Judd Apatow attached with a production that he has not written or directed in any way, my teeth start to grind from my clenched jaw, and my hands cramp from being balled into fists of tension. While there's no denying the critical and financial impact of a project that includes Apatow's name, or that of any of his stock company, sometimes the leap to back a feature with the "From the Guys Who Brought You..." tag takes a bit too much liberty. Sometimes the result is Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and sometimes the result is Strange Wilderness. Both films will make you laugh, but one will make you laugh several hundred times more than the other.
Drillbit Taylor was written by an interesting trio; you have Seth Rogen, who starred in Apatow's Knocked Up, along with Kristofor Brown, one of the producers of Apatow's short-lived television show Undeclared. Then you have Edmond Dantes, a pen name used by guy named John Hughes, who built a cottage industry from films with adolescents as its stars in the 1980s. The film focuses on three kids about to enter high school for the first time; the lanky Wade (Nate Hartley), the shorter, stockier Ryan (Troy Gentile, Nacho Libre) and the geeky Emmit (David Dorfman, The Ring). The triad look an awful lot like the three kids who were the stars of Superbad, which is the first strike against the film in my opinion, but I digress. They are bullied on an almost daily basis, and decide to hire someone to serve as their bodyguard. That's when Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket) comes into play. A former U.S. Army soldier with a slightly mysterious background, Drillbit is now homeless, and takes on the assignment as a way to swindle the kids and steal their parents' money and belongings. But he takes a liking to the kids, and they become friends. However, in the meantime, there's a lot of attempted yucks, most of them physical, during the film's extended edition, which runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical cut.
The pacing is easily the first problem with the film. I watched the extended cut, but even on a trimmed theatrical cut, Drillbit Taylor is 15 minutes too long (strike two), with jokes that are not too funny and a story that is heavily influenced by films like Three O'Clock High and similar '80s films that involve bullies. Shoot, Adam Baldwin, who played a similar role in the cult classic My Bodyguard, appears in a quick onscreen moment. Perhaps that's why Hughes has a story credit to the film, I don't know, but this looks a lot like other material that's been done before and executed in better circumstances than this. One would hope that if Seth Rogen has contributed some material to a screenplay like this, at least he's got the presence of mind to put some sort of quality control mechanism in place, because Steven Brill, ye of Without a Paddle fame, is too busy trying to make sure that the story takes center stage, without giving much of a chance for the adult performers to improvise and make the movie funnier than it is (strike three).
Now it's not to say that Brill neutered the cast; Wilson does have some moments where he manages to toss in a funny quick response here and there. But Leslie Mann appears as Drillbit's love interest and seems to be the prototypical well-meaning love interest. Compare her performance here with that in Knocked Up, and one performance is confident, funny and self-assured, and the other one is kind of boring and a little bit demeaning of the actress' talents. Danny McBride, who appeared in the slightly funny The Foot Fist Way, seems off his game here as well. Nobody gets the chance to go off the reservation a little bit, so the screen time that the kids share becomes more important, which, as I alluded to earlier, seems repetitive from the Jonah Hill-Michael Cera-McLovin dynamic from 2007's Superbad. Three strikes and you're out, my friend.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Not having seen a new Paramount Blu-ray disc in a little while, I did like the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation of the film, even if it was using a VC-1 encode. Flesh tones are reproduced accurately, there's a fair amount of detail in the foreground and depth in the background, and the few times where blacks make an appearance, they're pretty deep and provide a solid contrast in the film. A lot of the school sequences don't possess a consistent level of clarity, but for a new release, Drillbit Taylor looks adequate.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for your ears. Most of what occurs is done with dialogue that is recorded strongly and balanced well, so you don't have to crank up your receiver to listen. Directional effects and speaker panning are at a medium, but since the kids like music in their films, songs by the Crystal Method and other artists sound clear and possess a fair amount of dynamic range. You might even have some low end fidelity pop up from your subwoofer. Overall though, things are pretty straightforward and hardly immersive in any way. With all of that said, the technical qualities of the disc are solid and, with a 1080p presentation and lossless soundtrack, have an advantage on the standard definition release.
Brill, Brown, Gentile, Hartley and Dorfman combine forces for a commentary. The track's main participants are Brill and Brown, and the kids come in and out over the course of the track and sit down for a bit to chat. The main topics appear to be scene-specific, without a lot of lasting information about the production other than trivia. Brill and Brown do talk about working with Apatow on the film and point out what footage is extended, but otherwise it's very conversational when the kids come in, but there's a lot of dead air over the feature, which is disappointing. Overall, the track is pretty skippable. The rest of the features are all presented in high definition, starting with a phone conversation with Brown and Rogen (14:00) on how they put the story together. This is pretty much the only time that Rogen or Apatow participate in the extras, which leads me to think that the film's co-writer and producer either didn't want the focus to be on them or didn't want to be associated with the film. A bevy of deleted and extended scenes, 19 in all (23:32) follow, and aside from some alternate footage of the bodyguard auditions, including some hilarious improvising from Frank Whaley (JFK), but many of the scenes are bland. The usual "Line-O-Rama" section (4:24) covers alternate lines by the boys and Wilson in various scenes, while a gag reel (4:01) includes a very funny impression of Charlie Brown's teacher, and little else. A similar piece to the Line-O-Rama with reactions to Drillbit's panhandling follows (3:07), along with "Kids on the Loose" (2:41), which shows the prepubescent stars goofing around, between and before takes. "Directing Kids" (3:02) features Brill's thoughts on working with said kids, along with a lot of fake physical abuse directed to the stars. "Super Billy" (2:42) spends some time on one of the supporting players in the cast, while "Bully" (2:59) is the same thing as the "Kids on the Loose" piece, but focused on the antagonists. "Bodyguard" (2:55) has some in-character interviews with the bodyguards on set for the audition sequence, and "Trading Punches" (1:34) shows Ryan and Wade's fight rehearsals. "Rap Off" shows Gentile's preparation for and shooting of the 8 Mile type sequence. "Sprinkler Day" (3:24) looks at the events of the day where, yes, the sprinklers were set off, while "Filkins Fight" (7:15) examines...do I really need to tell you? "The Life of Don" (2:14) is an in-character look at the man by McBride, while a separate interview with McBride is next, called "The Real Don" (5:46). Two trailers for the film are the last extras on the disc.
Drillbit Taylor is a formulaic comedy, despite the efforts from Wilson to prove otherwise. This isn't through any fault of the kids; but the grownups should have been given more time to elevate the material. A more confident film would have run shorter and appealed to more primal elements and would have been a little funnier as a result. The supplemental material is wholly average, and the technical qualities of the disc are nothing to sneeze at, so in all I'd give this a rental before deciding, even if you are a fan of all things Apatow.