"Drillbit Taylor" is about three dorky high school freshmen who hire a homeless bull artist to protect them, train them and make life tolerable in a new school. It's a Judd Apatow production that leans more toward the sweet than the edgy, more derivative than original. But it's still an amusing time at the movies.
The "freakishly skinny" Wade, aka "Skeletor," and the cherubic Ryan, aka "T. Dog," barely survive their nightmarish first few days at affluent McKinley High. Wade (Nate Hartley) sticks up for a bullied kid (David Dorfman) and that brings the thuggish, emancipated (no parents to report to) Filkins down on them all.
Filkins, given a teenage viciousness that's part real toughness, part high school myth, is played to the turn- on-the-fear/turn-on-the-charm hilt by Alex Frost.
As beat-down follows humiliation, the freshman trio reach out to a principal who finds the taunts funny. So they go to the Internet to find a bodyguard. A hilarious "job interview" montage brings Drillbit to them. He's an "ex-Army Ranger," he assures them, trained in assorted martial arts. Actually, he's just a charming bum and a creative liar. He's happy to take their money, sell their parents' possessions, all in an effort to pull together the cash to move to Canada. He gives them useless advice, like having "a hold-back guy," somebody to supposedly hold you back from wailing on the dude you're threatening.
Drillbit infiltrates their lives and their school. He poses as a substitute teacher and hits it off with the fetching, lovesick Lisa (Leslie Mann). The boys, the bodyguard and the teacher all have some learning, some facing up to their fears, to do.
"Drillbit" is a safe and sentimental movie, by Team Apatow standards (he produced, Seth Rogen came up with the story, Steven "Little Nicky" Brill directed). The Rogen "Superbad" formula of skinny, brainy guy paired with fast-talking cherub isn't as comically subversive here, or as raunchy. These "freaks and geeks" are younger, more like the TV show that gave Apatow his start.
But movies like this remind us that Owen Wilson is nothing less than a national treasure. Cast anybody else in this con-man/homeless man/zen surfer bodyguard role and the movie doesn't work. Check out the way his baby blues mist over when he spins a whopper about being discharged from the Army "for unauthorized heroism."
"They call it 'an Army of One,' " he says, "but they don't mean it."