- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.

‘Drillbit Taylor’

Rating: PG-13

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 13 and older.

** (out of five stars)

Running time: 102 minutes

Common Sense review: On the first day of freshman year, Ryan (Troy Gentile) and Wade (Nate Hartley) make a big mistake: They both wear the same T-shirt, which instantly attracts the attention of senior bullies — including super creepy Filkins (Alex Frost). Many threats, mean-spirited pranks and humiliations later, they decide to hire a bodyguard. The only one they can afford, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), claims to have an Army background, but he’s really a homeless Army deserter who wants a few hundred bucks to relocate to Canada. That is, until he infiltrates the school as a substitute and hooks up with the English teacher. Oh, and he starts to like the boys, too, and decides to actually help them. But does he like them enough to stop his friends’ plan to rob Wade’s house? Or enough to help his charges when they challenge Filkins to a fight on his turf?

Like a first-timer’s fistfight, “Drillbit Taylor” is awkwardly and mean-spiritedly funny for a second — until it’s painful to watch. Mr. Wilson’s comedic timing is always great, and the young actors who play Ryan and Wade are really freshman-boy nerdy in a comical way. A couple of scenes are even pretty laugh-out-loud funny, like when Drillbit realizes that all he needs to pull off the substitute teacher role is to have a coffee cup in his hand. After that, it gets painful.

Why present the boys’ nemesis as one-dimensional evil in Eminem’s clothing? All great bullies have a little depth — just look at “The Karate Kid.” Also, the humor relies on too many scenes of the teens learning how to fight, which slows the movie down and makes it apparent that there’s not much here in the way of plot. Then the fighting gets more and more violent to speed things up again — making the movie less and less funny with every punch. Per formulaic-movie rules, Drillbit saves the boys in the end and works in some great one-liners, but it’s not enough to make this a winning comedy.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this teen comedy was produced by Judd Apatow — who directed the “hard R” comedies “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” — and co-written by “Knocked Up” star Seth Rogen (who also co-scripted “Superbad”). With a PG-13 rating and a focus on high school bullies, the adult humor and language are dialed down a few notches here — and replaced with relentless, violent bullying behavior. The freshmen are constantly threatened, beaten up, chased and humiliated. For most of the movie, parents and the principal laugh the behavior off. Also expect plenty of product placement and fat jokes aimed at a young teen.

Families can talk about how the movie portrays bullies. Do you know bullies like Filkins, or is he just a caricature of a freshman’s worst nightmare? What would you do in the boys’ situation? Even though the principal’s total obliviousness was for laughs, do you think there’s some truth to the idea that adults don’t take the problem seriously? What other forms does bullying take these days? Is it always physical, or are there other ways bullies can hurt people?

Sexual content: Two bare-butt shots of Drillbit showering on the beach. Drillbit and the English teacher have daily quickies in the classroom — though nothing but kissing is shown. A “life skills” class talks about symptoms of STDs and shows a diagram of a penis.

Language alert: Some milder cursing and use of negative stereotype words.

Violence alert: Lots of teen fistfighting. The over-the-top bullying behavior is meant for some laughs, but the main bully, Filkins, is practically a sociopath. He nearly runs the freshmen down in his car, punches them out repeatedly (breaking a nose), and hits them with other objects (like the base of a lamp). He eventually throws a sword that severs a finger. Includes scenes in which the freshmen boys try to learn how to fight and end up hurting each other repeatedly (played for laughs, including the easy groin gag).

Commercialism alert: Cap’n Crunch cereal has the biggest plug — Drillbit loves it. Apple laptops are everywhere. The boys down Red Bulls before their big fight. Clips of “Fight Club” and “The Untouchables.” Mentions or shots of IPods, Gameboy, Coke, Power Bar, Clif Bar, Costco, Hot Topic, YouTube.

Social behavior alert: The main bad guy is a cruel, unrelenting bully; the principal and parents laugh off his behavior like it’s all in good fun. Drillbit is a chronic liar who comes to care for his naive young charges and decides not to rob them in the end — but still takes their weekly “protection” money. The protagonists skip school to learn fighting techniques and raid their parents’ homes for whatever Drillbit wants, including expensive suits and electronics. Also lots and lots of fat jokes aimed at a young teen — and a few skinny-boy jokes, too.

Alcohol/tobacco/drug alert: Teens party before the big fight, and everyone has a big plastic cup in their hand. Adults drink. Plenty of references to pot smoking.

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