DRILLBIT TAYLOR is a labored and disjointed effort with identity issues. Part psycho thriller (not ineffective), part examination of the plight of the homeless vet (lunging out of left field), part screwball comedy (stereotypically obvious), and all punctuated with punch lines that can most charitably described as hit and miss. Emphasis on the latter.
The title character, played with a laissez-faire attitude by Owen Wilson, is the homeless vet who comes up with a plan to scam three nerds. They are ripe for the fleecing, terrorized during their first week of high school by the school bully (Alex Frost), and shopping for a bodyguard to save their hides. Alas, even with the nerdiest of the three coughing up his bar mitzvah money, the only one they can afford to hire is Drillbit, who fails to arouse their suspicions when he points out that the silver tray in one of their homes would make a terrific defensive weapon and spirits it away. They are that cowed by the bully, and the script is that lazy. Of course, Drillbit eventually decides to put his plans for a life in Canada on hold and actually try to save the kids. Of course, the kids start to have their doubts about Drillbit’s ability to actually save them. And of course, they actually all learn valuable life lessons that none of them could possibly have learned had they never met, though sadly for the audience, none of those lessons involve suddenly finding a way to make this mish-mash into something coherent.
The nerds, lanky Ronnie (Josh Peck), portly Ryan (Troy Gentile), and the diminutive, irritating Emmit (David Dorfman), are standard issue, though Peck brings a surprising depth to his character, with his nascent crush on a bookish classmate, patience with his idiot-jock of a step-father, and his ability to squeal like a little girl without, somehow, losing his essential dignity. Frost as the bully is genuinely terrifying, as he latches onto the nerds with a smirking sociopathic stare that is the stuff of nightmares, those of nerdy adolescents and others made of much sterner stuff. The script never quite makes sense of why this guy is allowed to destroy property and commit what at best could be described as heavy misdemeanors in plain sight without any of the faculty noticing. It also never quite makes sense of why Drillbit can pose as a substitute high school teacher without getting caught. Now, if this were in any sense a zany comedy with a hellzapoppin-style zaniness to distract the audience with belly laughs, that wouldn’t matter quite so much. The same could be said for the teacher who takes less than 30 seconds to fall in a carnal fashion for Drillbit. Instead of quirky or fun or pleasantly nymphomaniac, she is instead played by Leslie Mann with the broad humor of fingernails scraping slowly along a blackboard, and the desperation of someone locked in a room with same.
There is a small satisfaction is watching the nerds grow a pair each. Or perhaps a pair between the three of them, but the sum total of DRILLBIT TAYLOR’s obtuse cluelessness saps even that small pleasure away.