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Review: 'Drillbit' surprisingly dulled

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  • CNN.com critic: "Drillbit Taylor" isn't very funny
  • Film about high-schoolers hiring bodyguard makes little sense
  • Cast, including Owen Wilson and Leslie Mann, tries hard, but can't save it
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By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- With "Drillbit Taylor," the Brat Pack meets the Frat Pack, courtesy of the House of Apatow.

Drillbit Taylor

Owen Wilson (right) becomes a bodyguard for three nerdy students in "Drillbit Taylor."

"Drillbit," produced by comedy king Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up"), is the product of "Superbad" screenwriter Seth Rogen, who shares a writing credit here with Kris Brown ("Beavis and Butthead").

There's also a co-story credit for one Edmond Dantes, the pen name affected by John Hughes for his lesser work, some of which sat on a shelf for years. Presumably Hughes isn't literally locked up in a dungeon like his Count of Monte Cristo namesake, but the "Breakfast Club" guru has become such a recluse it can't be discounted entirely.

And what grand vision has united these comedy titans new and old? Memories of getting the crap beaten out of them at high school, that's what.

Such is the sorry fate that befalls Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan (Troy Gentile) on their first day of school. Skinny and spotty, Wade would make a natural target at the best of times, but he aggravates the situation by stepping in to protect weedy Emmit (David Dorfman) and earns the mortal enmity of the vindictive Filkins (Alex Frost). His chubby pal Ryan -- in matching devil-dice T-shirt -- is collateral damage.

It's going to be a long haul through to graduation. Unless, that is, the victims pool their resources and hire a personal bodyguard.

Enter Drillbit (Owen Wilson), the only candidate the boys can afford. He claims to be an Army Ranger, schooled in black ops and an "Improvised Weapons" expert. In fact he's destitute, a squeegee merchant who eats out of Dumpsters and sleeps in the undergrowth. He takes what cash the kids have and decides to play them for more, throwing in some ad-hoc self-defense training along the way.

At first glance the role doesn't seem like a natural fit for Wilson. In 2008, even an 11-year-old nerd might expect more muscle for his buck -- Vin Diesel, perhaps, or The Rock. But a real tough guy might have been too obvious.

Wistful and evasive, Wilson's a soft-sell scam artist. He looks each child in the eye and asks him to imagine what violence he's seen. He may dress like Colonel Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now," but he counsels them to psych out their nemesis by seeking common ground. When that doesn't work, he poses as a substitute teacher and sets off the fire alarm when trouble approaches. Anything to avoid confrontation.

But for all the talent involved -- the cast also includes Leslie Mann ("Knocked Up") and Stephen Root ("No Country for Old Men," the TV series "NewsRadio") -- "Drillbit Taylor" has a problem. It's not that funny.

If you're small enough to get a vicarious thrill out of another revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy it might pass muster, but director Steven Brill ("Little Nicky") pulls most of his punches, and Rogen & Co.'s screenplay can't be bothered to explain how "Dr. Illbit" infiltrates the faculty. ("As long as you've got a cup of coffee in your hand nobody says anything," he marvels -- and so do we.)

Parents may be reassured that Seth Rogen has toned down his superbad language considerably, but "Drillbit Taylor" still merits a PG-13 for "strong bullying," which is putting it mildly. Filkins (very menacingly played by Frost, the Columbine-style killer in Gus Van Sant's "Elephant") tries to run down the "Siamese triplets," as he calls them, in his car, and skewer them with his samurai sword.

It's not the kind of behavior you might wish to impress on your kids. Then again, Wade and Ryan are familiar with "Scarface," "Blade Runner" and "Fight Club" (inspiring the movie's most tasteless and funniest scene).

If that's typical viewing for preteens, then this decidedly scrappy romp will look very mild indeed. But that doesn't make it any better.

"Drillbit Taylor" is rated PG-13 and runs 102 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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