Ah, high school: Best time of your life, some folks will tell you.
Of course, these folks apparently assume you've got good looks, a spot on the football team and a shiny black muscle car. For students like incoming ninth-graders Wade, Ryan and Emmit, high school can most certainly not be the best time ever.
Wade is a scrawny, bespectacled teen with a mop of red hair and a trusting nature. Ryan is an overweight loudmouth who wants to be called "T-Dog." Emmit is an undersized kid with braces who has a passion for Broadway musicals. And bullies are drawn to the three of them like sharks to chum.
The good news is that the boys' high school apparently contains just two bullies. The bad news? Well, they're both bad news—particularly Filkins, a hooded punk whose parents live in Hong Kong. He's whitewashed the principal into thinking that he's really just a misunderstood child of circumstance, even though rumor has it that he cut off the arm of a fellow student with a samurai sword.
The three friends soon find that high school resembles, more than anything, Dante's Inferno—seven periods replacing the nine circles. The principal's been bamboozled. Their parents are clueless. So the boys decide they'll have to save themselves—with the help of a hired bodyguard.
Enter Drillbit Taylor, who tells the boys he was a special-ops guy in the Army before he was discharged for "unauthorized heroism." "These eyes have seen unimaginable horror," he says as he glares at the lads, shortly after rattling off a list of celebrities whose bodies he's guarded.
It's all a big pack of lies, of course. Drillbit (real name: Bob) is in fact a homeless ne'er-do-well who plans to take the boys' money, rob their houses and use the proceeds to skedaddle to Canada for a fresh start. The only thing he plans to guard is his own self interest.
When bullies try to stuff Emmit into a half-size locker, Wade stands up for the kid—a move that enrages the bullies and sets Wade's high school career on a new, unpleasant trajectory. Never mind that, he thinks, and regularly tries to do the right thing, even taking the next step and befriending Emmit. Wade also does his best to deal with the bullies in less violent ways before turning to Drillbit for help.
Drillbit initially has about as much intention of helping the boys as Judd Apatow has of making a G-rated comedy. But in spending time with them, he winds up giving the kids a much-needed dose of self-confidence. And they, in turn, help Drillbit transform himself into more of the hero he was pretending to be. [Spoiler Warning] Drillbit eventually does his best to make amends for all his past misdeeds, and he even inadvertently sacrifices his pinkie to save the boys.
Drillbit Taylor also suggests that most of these kids are struggling because of the lack of parental involvement in their lives. Filkins parents are way out of the picture—a major cause of his delinquency it seems. Ryan's folks are divorced. Wade's stepfather doesn't even attempt to understand him. Drillbit laments to one of his homeless friends that "there's never anyone around" for the boys. Is any of this positive? No. But it does emphasize that engaged parents are the best bodyguards children can have.
Before linking up with the boys, Drillbit spends much of his day panhandling on busy intersections. One would-be donor tells Drillbit, "We're on the way to church. Maybe that's where you should go." Drillbit tells his young charges that he'll watch over them "like the Lord Almighty Himself." Wade's and Ryan's matching, first-day-of-school shirts feature flaming devil's heads (along with sets of flaming dice).
Audiences (and lots of passers-by in the film) see Drillbit's bare bum twice from a distance. We also see—and the boys take pictures of—bikini-clad sunbathers lying on their stomachs. (One has her top undone.)
Ryan kisses a girl without her permission. Drillbit has a sexual fling with a teacher who sometimes wraps her legs around him while kissing him passionately. She handles Scotch tape suggestively, and a comment is made about them setting the teacher's lounge couch on fire.
In his son's room, Wade's stepdad tells him to "put some chicks on the wall in here. It looks like a nerd paradise." Wade's stepbrothers make a crude reference to their dad and his mom sleeping together. Wade has an imaginary conversation with a girl in the shower—one that suggests she's taking a shower with him.
Porn gets a mention or two. As does "banging." A crack is made about gay sex. And the bullies often snidely suggest that Wade and Ryan are homosexuals. The boys watch a music video featuring rear ends clad in tight shorts. Filkins is forced to read a suggestive poem in English class. Several songs in the film's score contain sexualized messages and euphemistic references to body parts and erections. Dialogue crudely references critical parts of the male anatomy, too.
Ryan has taken to sleeping nude since beginning high school—an unpleasant discovery for his mother when she comes to wake him up.
Filkins is a truly harrowing bully: Even when he's not actually hammering the boys, he's enveloped by this aura of menace that, frankly, is a little disturbing. He and his pal torment our three protagonists in nonviolent ways at first: spraying soda all over Emmit's laptop, locking Wade in a trophy cabinet, etc. But when Ryan takes on Filkins in a rap freestyle showdown—and wins—Filkins turns violent and punches Wade in the face.
"Rap definitely does promote violence," Wade says, nursing his bloody nose.
Drillbit leads the boys through a bizarre boot camp, ordering them to attack him—sometimes all at once. Wade and Ryan try, unsuccessfully, to learn how to take a punch by smacking each other around. And they learn fighting moves by playing Tekken. They watch the violent film Fight Club (of which audiences see a snippet). And their final showdown with Filkins—which they initiate—is filled with flying fists, feet, lamps and a sword.
[Spoiler Warning] Filkins also tangles with Drillbit (who, as it turns out, doesn't like confrontation), punching him repeatedly in the face and chopping off part of his pinkie. But he and his bullying friend get as well as give: At one juncture, they find themselves suspended from a gymnasium ceiling while a machine fires tennis balls at them. Filkins' last rumble with the boys leaves him temporarily unconscious. Drillbit kicks a couple of people in the face and causes a moving van door to slam shut on someone's fingers.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the s-word at least 10 times and rack up a lengthy list of other profanities besides. Which one's the most used? "A--," the tally of which topped 30 in my notes. "D--n," "h---" and b--ch" are used with some frequency, too. And God's name is abused at least a dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Drillbit's homeless compadres are suspiciously laid-back hombres, and one of them creates a sign that says, "Will smoke your weed for food." They play chess using empty medicine bottles, and several dab some liquid ... something ... on their tongues. It could be breath freshener for all I know, but my guess is uh-uh. One of Canada's selling points for Drillbit is that the beer there is "twice as strong." We see him brandishing a bottle of Chardonnay in the bathtub.
When Wade's parents notice that items in their home are missing and that Wade never has any money, they begin to suspect that their son is smoking marijuana. He's not, and parental concern never goes much beyond a 45-second dinnertime conversation. One of Wade's stepbrothers chimes in: "Coach says drugs are for losers." A high school party appears to feature lots of alcohol. A margarita makes a conspicuous appearance.
Other Negative Elements
In a sentence: The rest of the movie. Drillbit lies whenever he opens his mouth. He steals everything from cups of coffee and half-eaten sandwiches to sparkling silver platters. He masquerades as a substitute teacher and, as this faux teacher, he sets an elaborate popsicle-stick creation (weeks worth of work by the student he takes it from) on fire. His favorite saying? "You can't polish a turd."
Does it matter that Drillbit's gambit with the popsicle sticks sets off the school's sprinklers, saving the film's heroes from an uncomfortable encounter with Filkins? Or that he eventually takes back everything he stole from Wade and his pals? Or that he even returned everything that his homeless friends stole from Wade? How 'bout that he 'fesses up about his lying and eventually spends time in jail to make amends for being an Army deserter?
Sure it does.
But if Drillbit comes clean, other characters never do. Wade and Ryan both lie to their parents—an act the film forgives and even condones, since the parents are so ineffectual. Both boys are disrespectful and, at times, downright rude.
Wade and Ryan are forced to urinate on each other, and Emmit inadvertently soaks the boys' bathroom when a bully lifts him away from a urinal. A burglar apparently urinates on Wade's kitchen floor.
Judd Apatow, the mind behind raunchy comedies The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad, brings his crass sensibilities (albeit without the f-words) to Drillbit Taylor. The result is a barely PG-13 film that contains lots of testicle jokes and a little bit of heart.
"It took about one minute to know that Judd was exactly the right person to do this," said fellow producer Donna Arkoff Roth. "His love and understanding of kids this age and his reverence and appreciation for this kind of world are the perfect mix."
Indeed, Drillbit Taylor has a happy, even heartwarming ending. Drillbit becomes a much better person, the bully is banished and the young protagonists find high school salvation in the form of wanton physical violence.
OK, let's back up a minute. The film's conclusion—where Wade, Ryan and Emmit stick up for themselves and fight Filkins and his friend—generates cheers. They're taking on bullies, for cryin' out loud, and bullies should get their just deserts. Right? Most of us know what it feels like to be bullied in one form or another, and psychologists are learning more and more about how harmful bullying can be. Adults don't seem to care about us, so why not take down the evildoers ourselves, these kids say.
Courage, confidence and the act of sticking up for others are all great things. But Drillbit Taylor intimates that the surest way to becoming courageous and confident is to punch someone's lights out. Satisfying? Perhaps. The right thing to do? Not so much. Jesus, of course, preached the idea of turning the other cheek, and He walked the walk by allowing Himself to be tortured and crucified. That's a different sort of courage altogether, and far more inspiring.
Drillbit Taylor tells us that, sometimes, we have to fight. Jesus tells us that fighting, frankly, is the easy way out.