Don’t you forget about me…

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Perhaps it’s a certain soft spot for the navigator of my awkward adolescent journey, John Hughes; maybe it’s the affable charisma of lead Owen Wilson (who, even off his game as he is here, is just someone with whom you want  to share a beer); or it could be the overall throwback tone of the film’s less-ironic, less-cynical high school setting.

Whatever the reason, I quite enjoyed “Drillbit Taylor.”

Hughes, the arbiter of public school angst, originally scribbled the screenplay for the new comedy and allowed it to languish for the better part of two decades before it was dusted off by reigning comedic king Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “40-Year-Old Virgin”) and his faithful scribes Seth Rogan (“Superbad”) and Kristofer Brown (TVs “Undeclared”).

Hughes’ name is not found on any of the credits (acknowledgment is given to his frequent nom de plume of Edmond Dantes), but his style can be felt throughout.

With great nerd love, Hughes always tapped into the anxieties, hopes, fears, and, dare it be dreamed, love of those squares living outside the popular circles in high school. He affected and defined a generation with six films in just four years.

Think about that number.

The list of his film could hyperventilate many a Gen-X –er prone to spouting off many a memorable movie line : “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

And while “Drillbit Taylor” will not gain access to the coveted coliseum of memorable Hughes characters (Bueller, Duckie, Long Duk Dong, Farmer Ted, Chet, Cameron, etc.), it is a good-natured return to perhaps the most anxiety-prone places of repressed memory, and where some of Hughes’ riches comedies were set – high school.

Wilson stars as a homeless Iraq vet genially slumming the California streets in search of spare change. Now this is hardly the stuff of comedy gold, and while the subtle social commentary is an awkward fit, Wilson’s laissez-faire demeanor pitches the proper balance between snickers and sympathy.

Drillbit notices an online ad from a trio of geeks searching for protection from their psychotic high school harrier.

The outcasts could easily be renamed “Superbad: The Early Years,” as they consist of the fat, sarcastic one (Tony Gentile), the skinny introspective one (Nate Harley), and the screeching uber-dork (David Dorfman). The actors themselves offer relatively little to the whole affair, but, then again, no one ever praised Andrew McCarthy for his range, Judd Nelson for his Method approach, or Molly Ringwald for her intensity.

Drillbit sees the young suburbanites as three little ATM machines who can help finance his ticket to Canada to start life anew. He pilfers a few valuable knick-knacks from their homes while haphazardly helping them overcome their daily high school hell. Conscience gets the better of Drillbit, and soon he infiltrates the school as a substitute teacher to further aid the kids’ daily humiliations.

At this point in the review, you may be thinking: “Hmm, faint praise, hackneyed plot… I think I’ll pass.” But “Taylor” works despite all these things.

It works in all those “in-between” moments of the film. Throwaway lines delivered by former “Daily Show” correspondent Beth Littleford (someone please give this woman a smart lead role!), comedian Matt Walsh, and Danny McBride (soon to be seen in Apatow’s “Pineapple Express” and Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder”).

They, along with the leads, deliver casual, off-the-cuff zingers that validate “Taylor’s” existence, When training his young charges, Drillbit casually tosses off such lines as: “Now it isn’t all Oriental martial arts, Sometimes you give a little Mexican judo. As in you don’t know who you messin’ with, homes.”

 And at its core is an oversized Hugh-sian heart, one that was absent from the flick of Wilson’s frequent co-star Will Ferrell in “Semi-Pro.”

It’s also an element that is sadly lacking in film designed for the high school crowd, which is more willing to highlight the misanthropic myopia and would-be sexual exploits than exalt in the more inconsequential aspects of freshman life, such as just existing without getting the snot clocked out of you.

 Perhaps his pen is a wee out of touch with today’s school experience, but his talent for mining the primal emotional dread is spot on.And if he decides to infrequently revisit that world every decade or so, I’ll slap on a pair of parachute pants, load up the Trapper Keeper, slip a cassette of Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the Walkman, and be first in line to watch.

~ by usesoapfilm on March 25, 2008.

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