Sunday, March 23, 2008

Superbabies

As always over at Pop Culture America, we were having such a good time with our guest, the effervescent Gina Philips, that we ran long and didn't have time for my review of ...

Drillbit Taylor (d. Steven Brill)

Back in the dark days of the 1980s (last century!), Saturday morning television was lousy with shows featuring classic cartoon characters magically -- sometimes disturbingly -- morphed into itty bitty little kiddies. There were "Flintstone Kids," and "A Pup Named Scooby Doo," and "Jim Henson's 'Muppet Babies,'" to name a few.

Utilizing the same successful marketing strategy, modern-day comedy impressario Judd Apatow now presents "Judd Apatow's 'Superbad Babies,'" aka, Drillbit Taylor.

Seth, Evan and McLovin ... Excuse me. I mean Ryan, Wade and Emmit are just starting their high school experience when on the very first day, thanks in large measure to a tragic fashion faux pas, they run afoul of McKinley High's resident bully (a blank-faced psychotic played by Elephant's Alex Frost). After suffering the inevitable locker stuffings and bathroom shenanigans, they decide to take matters into their own hands, scrape together a few bucks and hire a bodyguard.

"That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard," says Adam Baldwin in a memorable cameo.

The idea becomes stupider still when the only applicant the boys can afford is one Drillbit Taylor, a homeless drifter who subsists by hanging around swanky outdoor cafes and swiping the food rich people leave on their plates. Drillbit claims to be a black ops commando and promises to take the boys under his wing. In fact, he's just planning to rob them blind.

But then -- stop me if you've heard this before -- he takes a shine to the lads and has a Change of Heart.

As Drillbit, Owen Wilson, in his first role filmed after his suicide attempt last year, brings his usual laid-back charm; he's Matthew McConaughey with a broken nose and a shirt. He doesn't dig particularly deep into his bag of tricks here, and I for one would like to see him outside his comfort zone again. Am I the only one who remembers The Minus Man?

Probably.

But credit where it's due; the Wilson persona fits Drillbit well and he scores some solid one-liners throughout.

The Apatow junior varsity team -- Nate Hartley as the gawky, rail-thin Wade; Troy Gentile as pudgy, rap-happy Ryan; and David Dorfman as hobbit-sized Emmit -- all acquit themselves well, but pale in the obvious comparison to their Superbad doppelgangers. None has the foul-mouthed joie de vivre of Jonah Hill or the transcendent comic timing of Michael Cera.

The Drillbit Taylor script was originally the brainchild of the maestro of High School angst, John Hughes and it shows. The basic plot here would fit neatly as a B-story in Sixteen Candles or Some Kind of Wonderful. Hughes's credit on the film goes to the fictional "Edmond Dantes" and the actual scriptwriters are Kristofor Brown and Superbad's Seth Rogen. The modern sensibilities of Brown and Rogen are an uneasy fit with the classic Hughes style, as the tone of the film never really settles on whether it wants to be goofy-whimsical or semi-serious.

Despite that, there are some comic high points. Drillbit's defense lessons are a hoot and the boys teaching each other how to take a punch killed me.

But there isn't enough of that and the whole affair is too derivative and minor league to recommend.

Like those cartoon shows of the 80s, this is a pale imitation.

2 1/2 stars.

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