Netflix has to up its game in terms of film curation; job lots will only get more expensive, and all streaming services have to look for accessible, marketable movies that audiences haven’t already seen to death. Step forward Drillbit Taylor, a 2008 comedy starring Owen Wilson and directed by regular Adam Sandler collaborator Steven Brill. A comedy drama about a homeless veteran who agrees to protect three precocious high-schoolers from bullying is hardly a must-stream event, right?
Yet Drillbit Taylor has a more interesting pedigree that the above summary might suggest. The pseudonym on the story credit, Edmond Dantes, hides John Hughes, master of the teen movie via The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. His later work moved towards such family-fare as Home Alone, Uncle Buck and Baby’s Day Out, but Drillbit Taylor certainly makes an effort to recapture the school elements so well drawn in his best films. It’s also one that returns to the bullying theme featured in films like Weird Science, and features a notable bad-egg turn from Alex Frost, all John Bender-style confrontation; it’s notable that the hero, Taylor, says ‘I don’t like confrontation,’ cementing the different attitudes of the adversaries.
There’s also a strange novelty about seeing a John Hughes high school that references You Tube and 8 Mile. The modernity comes from this being an early Judd Apatow entry, with Seth Rogen one of the script-writers; the three boys Drillbit Taylor takes under this wing seem to be prototypes for the Superbad kids. But it’s not immediately clear whose authorial voice created sub-plots like Taylor getting mistaken for a supply teacher and making whoopee with English prof in the staffroom; this film has a tricky tone by dint of its ‘kids in peril’ scenario, and that perhaps led to a stony response at the box-office.
‘Have it your way; there’s a reason why that’s the army’s slogan’ says Taylor to the kids, only to be met with the response ‘Isn’t that Burger King?” ‘And where do you think they got it from?’ replies Taylor. Exchanges like this make Drillbit Taylor something of a missing link between 80’s comedies and the Apatow production line; with a positive message about growing up, it’s a sunny, silly film that’s as diverse, confused and amusing as it’s hero.