Like Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow has tried to extend his franchise, and like Sandler, the result is diluted, derivative, and disappointing. Director Steven Brill (of the truly terrible “Without a Paddle,” “Ready to Rumble,” and Sandler’s biggest flop, “Little Nicky”) captures the letter but not the spirit of the Apatow oeuvre. You can hear the pitch now: “A PG-13 ‘Superbad!'” As in that film, we have a schlubby pair of best friends, one fat (Troy Gentile as Ryan) and one thin (Nate Hartley as Wade), who want nothing more than to be cool and get girls to like them.
But there is a bully who tortures them so badly they decide to hire a bodyguard, Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), who tells them he is a former Ranger who has experience with Black Ops and protecting high-profile celebrities. His plan is to take their money and leave town, but one of his other low-life friends persuades him to stick around and get as much as he can from the boys. Drillbit becomes attached to them and to the vision of himself he sees in their eyes.
If Apatow is not careful, he will find his name as devalued as “National Lampoon,” once a reliable indicator of movie comedy but now a harbinger of unreleasable straight-to-video 99-cent bin time-wasters. This film cannibalizes previous films from the Apatow atelier as well as other, better films like My Bodyguard and School of Rock. Apatow’s wife, the very talented Leslie Mann, shows up in the thankless generic role of a sex-mad teacher who is instantly smitten with Drillbit and is happy to think he represents a change from her usual attraction to bad boys and losers.
The backstories and characters of Drillbit and the bully are dull, the plot predictable and overlong. It feels synthetic and condescending to its audience. Can Drillbit fight or is he just a lying doofus? It depends on the needs of the script at the moment. The two leads here are not nearly as desperate for Drillbit to come through as the script is, but it never happens.
Parents should know that this movie has a lot of strong material for a PG-13. As usual, the MPAA’s standards are looser for a comedy and so material that would get an R in a drama is permitted in a PG-13. The film includes nudity (Wilson taking a shower, bare tush), comic, non-explicit sexual situations and references, and a sweet first kiss. Characters drink and talk about drug use. The movie concerns an abusive bully and there are several scenes of fighting with some injuries including a severed finger. There is some strong language and crude macho talk. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of an inter-racial romance.
Families who see this movie should talk about their own experiences with bullies and their ideas on the best way to respond. There are a number of websites with resources for responding to bully problems including this one and this one. And all 4th-7th graders should see Trevor Romaine’s Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the classic My Bodyguard, starring Adam Baldwin, who turns up in this film as a candidate for the job.