The name Judd Apatow and the word “hit” have become synonymous. Since the 2005 release of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Apatow has seemed to be consistent in his ability to produce hit after hit, whether he is producing, writing, directing, or a combination of all three. Last year alone, he had his name attached to two films which raked in over $100 million each, with “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” Along with 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” Apatow contributed to the revival of the R-rated teen comedy. He stumbled with the critical darling, but commercial bomb, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” but he can be forgiven for his mistakes. Perhaps it is his ability to launch the careers of young talent that has helped create the buzz that has surrounded his name. This year, Apatow has his name attached to four films; “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Step Brothers,” “Pineapple Express” and “Drillbit Taylor.” “Drillbit” is the first of his films. Directed by Stephen Brill, who also did the Apatow written “Heavyweights,” “Drillbit” is the weakest in the long list of Apatow films. There are elements of last summer’s “Superbad” which come shining through from the first moments of the film to the finale. However, with a PG-13 rating, there is little that can be done and the level of humor sinks into the doldrums of comedy, relying on standard gags and a relatively predictable plot. The pitch-perfect cast, consisting of Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Josh Peck and Alex Frost, attempts to make-up for the lacking script, but cannot as they are stuck repeating similar jokes. While “Drillbit” is a weak effort amongst an otherwise stellar list, it is still entertaining. The film is not without its charm and will make you laugh, even though the laughs come much less frequently than in films like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” In the end, “Drillbit” is a forgivable blotch on a stellar résumé.
“Drillbit” begins with the first day of high school for Wade (Nate Hartely) and Ryan, or T-Dog as he prefers to be called (Troy Gentile), two friends who are looking forward to the first day at a new school. The two get off to a bad start from the first minute, as they both show up to school wearing the same shirt. After strolling down the hallway, they encounter Emmitt (David Dorfman), a nerd being assaulted by Filkins (Frost) and Ronnie (Peck). Upon witnessing the two antagonists stuff Emmitt into a locker, Wade and Ryan decide to stand up for him, only to have the bullies’ attention turn to them. Throughout the first week, Filkins and Ronnie make the three boys’ lives a nightmare. After this treatment, they decide to hire a bodyguard to protect them. The three interview several perspective guards, but ultimately settle on Drillbit Tayler (Wilson), a discharged army ranger who is willing to work for the meager weekly wage that the boys offer. Drillbit teaches the boys how to defend themselves against Filkins and Ronnie.
Upon the opening moments of the film, there is an undeniable closeness to last summer’s “Superbad,” with Seth Rogen, an Apatow alumnus, scribing the story and screenplay. The story is similar to the aforementioned film, except instead of being about having sex with the girls of their dreams, the boys are trying to show a bully who is boss. The characters are also reminiscent of “Superbad.” Gentile’s “Ryan” is reminiscent of Jonah Hill’s “Seth” in both his demeanor and attitude. He seems to have distaste for Emmitt, but is ultimately his friend. Dorfman’s “Emmitt” is also reminiscent of “McLovin’.” He is a dork that steals scenes and has, quite possibly, the most memorable moments in the film.
The two antagonists, Filkins and Ronnie, are very entertaining, but also very unbelievable. It is hard to imagine that the pain that these two inflict on the three protagonists would go unnoticed by school officials. Furthermore, when the principle, played by character actor Stephen Root, final encounters Filkins and the three boys, I find it hard to believe that he would take such a lackadaisical approach to the situation at hand. Filkins is also depicted less like a bully and more like a straight-forward psychopath, complete with an absence of remorse and no sense of morals. This is in complete contrast to this year’s “Charlie Bartlett,” which presented a bully in the more traditional sense. It seems that Rogen, Apatow and Brill find that the best way to present a bully is in the most extreme sense. However, this nullifies the film’s realism, which could have been relatively high.
The film also suffers from a great lack of focus. While there is a great deal of time spent on the relationship between Drillbit and the kids, it is not clear who the focus of the story is. Drillbit eats up a great deal of time, developing relationships with a high school English teacher (Mann) and interacting with friends. However, the boys also get a great deal of screen time, but it would seem that it is far more than the title character. The boys have the more humorous moments, leaving one to question why they were not given more time.
For all its faults and missteps, “Drillbit” is not without its charm. There are some particularly humorous moments, particularly in the last 30 minutes of the film, which are gold. The chemistry between the three boys is great and may be even better than that of the main characters in “Superbad.” The bullies, while unbelievable, do offer many moments of sheer hilarity. Even though it stumbles at points, it is still no where near as bad as it could have been.
In the end, moviegoers can forgive Apatow for one foul step. While not necessarily bad, it is certainly the weakest of the films connected to his name. Will audiences go away disappointed? Not necessarily, for it does offer a charm that is entertaining. Perhaps if this had been another one of Apatow’s traditional R-rated fare, it would have been better.
Chris Bashore is a fourth-year student majoring in political science. He can be reached at CB588901@wcupa.edu.