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Owen Wilson's clichéd dopey-deadbeat routine ruins 'Drillbit Taylor'

Owen Wilson is one of the more frustrating actors in the business right now. On one hand, he can be a total genius in the films of Wes Anderson (which he sometimes co-writes) or deadly funny in a well-scripted, straightforward comedies (Wedding Crashers, Meet the Parents).

Then, there's that other side of his repertoire: The deadbeat clown whose every line seems forced and whose routine is clichéd, meandering and lame.

We get the latter Wilson in Drillbit Taylor, a film that had a lot of promise on paper because of the involvement of Judd Apatow (producer) and Seth Rogen (co-writer). But apart from a few laughs and a couple of good cameos, this is a dull, bad film along the lines of Wilson's You, Me and Dupree. The director and screenwriters latch on to the dopey aspect of Wilson's persona, and they all conspire to deliver something that is dreadfully one-note and unfunny.

Wade, Ryan and Emmit (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman), a trio of high school freshmen, are routinely getting their asses kicked and humiliated at school by local bullies Filkins and Ronnie (Alex Frost and Josh Peck). They resolve to hire a bodyguard and settle on Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), who claims to be special-forces-trained and the former protector of Sylvester Stallone.

Of course, Drillbit is just a homeless guy looking to make some quick cash so he can split the country and head for Canada. After hanging around the kids for a few days, he starts liking them, and he decides to help them as best he can. This means he's going to watch them as many hours of the day as possible, including when they're at school. Therefore, he wears some fancy clothes, carries around a coffee cup and passes himself off as a substitute teacher.

The film fancies itself as sort of a My Bodyguard remake, but it doesn't belong in the same class as that 1980 classic. That film made Matt Dillon a star, and it gave hope to dorks everywhere that their days of wedgies and bus-stop beatings would come to an end if they just stood up for themselves. Drillbit Taylor even features a cameo that brings back fond memories of that movie.

There are many problems with Drillbit Taylor, but the biggest would be Wilson, who seems to be sleepwalking through the role. The actor has appeared bored with his acting assignments before, but this one catches him at his most blasé. It's as if he knows he signed up for a dud, and he can't wait for the shoot days to be over so he can catch a nap. When Wilson is humming, there are few people funnier. When he's bored, the world is bored along with him.

The other leads don't generate much excitement, either. Hartley, Gentile and Dorfman have sporadic moments of charm, but their characters lack the sort of substance needed to get an audience rooting for them. There's a bit involving Gentile's Ryan--during which he considers himself a great white rapper called T-Dog--that is especially tired. Frost, as Filkins, lacks the realistic menace that made Dillon so scary as a bully. Filkins is just a cartoon character.

Leslie Mann, the wife of Apatow who was so good in Knocked Up, is given nothing to work with as another substitute teacher who becomes Drillbit's love interest. It's a sad state of affairs when the funniest moment in a movie comes as the result of a Frank Whaley cameo, who totally rocks the 15 seconds he spends on screen.

The onscreen presence of Seth Rogen or Paul Rudd might've helped things along. Alas, they were probably off working in one of Apatow's numerous other movies in production. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's time for Wilson to call his buddy Wes Anderson and start brainstorming on his next career-salvager.

Drillbit Taylor
Rated NR

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