(Owen) Wilson's War

In 'Drillbit Taylor,' a group of geeky friends hire a bodyguard to help ward off the bullies.

courtesy of suzanne Hanover/paramount pictures
''Drillbit Taylor': The comedy stars Owen Wilson (c) and (from l.) David Dorfman, Nate Hartley, and Troy Gentile.

In "Drillbit Taylor," Owen Wilson plays a homeless Army dropout who cadges for spare change in Los Angeles and hangs out with a band of scuzzy hoodlums. Just another searing drama about the toll the Iraq war is taking on the home front.

Just kidding.

This latest whiffle ball from Team Apatow is a mildly amusing comedy in which Wilson plays a bodyguard hired by three well-to-do freshman high school nerds to protect them against a pair of bullies. It reworks not only movies like "My Bodyguard" but also a host of Apatow-produced films such as the much better "Superbad."

Apparently there is an infinite supply of nerdy-looking young actors out there, and the trio here are well cast. Ryan (Troy Gentile) looks eerily like a pint-sized Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the screenplay). Wade (Nate Hartley) is a human beanpole. Motormouth Emmit (David Dorfman) is the geek's geek. He makes his first appearance being stuffed into his own locker by bully-in-chief Filkins (Alex Frost). Frost, incidentally, played the teen psycho who goes on a Columbine-style massacre in Gus Van Sant's "Elephant." Maybe it's time to get a new persona.

The three boys advertise for a bodyguard on the Internet, which allows director Steven Brill the opportunity to stage a montage of potential applicants – an Israeli commando, an Asian martial artist, and so on. (As an in-joke, Adam Baldwin of "My Bodyguard" makes a cameo.) Since the kids have about a hundred dollars to spend, they end up with Drillbit, who convinces them he's an ace covert black-ops agent and puts them through a bedraggled form of boot camp. His real goal is to rob Wade's richly furnished home.

You can see where this is going. Drillbit bonds with the boys and can't go through with his plan. The boys discover he is not who he seems. All comes out right in the end.

The sentimentality quotient for this film is set too high. Do we really need it spelled out for us that Drillbit is as much in need of rescuing as our valiant Three Stooges? Do we need it rammed home to us that Wade's stepfather is a bully, too? The film is like an ill-advised cross between a goofball comedy and a sociology lesson.

In the middle of it all is Wilson, who manages to give his line readings a twirl even when, as is so often the case, they aren't particularly funny. Wilson, whose personal problems went public last year, may be growing out of these roles. His Drillbit has an undercurrent of melancholy that lifts the performance into another realm, at least when he isn't required to be goofy.

I was joking earlier about this movie being a serious drama, but certainly Wilson is capable of handling such an assignment. He's got acting chops he hasn't shown us yet. Grade: C+

Rated PG-13 for crude sexual references throughout, strong bullying, language, drug references and partial nudity.

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