In a Box
“Find your commonality,” advises Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), “the thing that makes you more alike than different.” Posing as a bodyguard and life coach for a trio of high school freshmen, Drillbit doesn’t look even a little bit sincere. He’s advising against fighting and competing, and promoting getting along. But his suggestion is made in vain, for he’s only the latest scam artist to be spewed from the Apatow Factory. Even though his young charges will learn a predictable lesson or two, being defined by their generic universe, they can’t possibly anticipate how painful their education will be.
You, however, have a clue. For one thing, the premise is borrowed. Drillbit Taylor acknowledges as much when the kids interview potential bodyguards and who shows up but Adam Baldwin (who starred in 1980’s My Bodyguard). For another thing, the kids are banally categorized by body type and affect, such that skinny sweetheart Wade (Nate Hartley), chubby wiseass Ryan (Troy Gentile), and annoying twit Emmit (David Dorfman) are all defined within three or four seconds of appearing on screen. And for yet another and completely tedious thing, Wilson’s man-boy antics are looking rather worn out by now, especially as he’s lecturing to children who might have been plucked from the half pike in You, Me & Dupree.
Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Josh Peck, David Dorfman, Danny McBride
US theatrical: 21 Mar 2008 (General release)
UK theatrical: 28 Mar 2008 (General release)
The feeling that you’ve seen this movie before is only enhanced by the fact that Ryan is yet another Seth Rogen stand-in, following in the still-fresh footsteps of Jonah Hill. The story begins as he and Wade are entering high school, worried that they’ll be deemed nerds and thus relegated to the popularity netherworld for the rest of their foreseeable lives. Indeed, their worst fear is realized on the first day when they arrive at the bus stop wearing their matching red devil bowling shirts. It’s not long before the campus bullies, Filkins (Alex Frost) and Ronnie (Josh Peck), target the newbies, initiating a montage of abuse: forcing them to urinate on each other in the boys’ room, hanging them from doors and locking them in trophy cases. High school has become a nightmare and oh dear, oh dear, what can the boys do?
Their answer is premised on the fact that Wade’s family is wealthy, such that he can afford to spend cash on a bodyguard. When Drillbit answers their ad, they think they’ve found an Army Special Forces veteran to beat their tormenters’ behinds. Because the film doesn’t leave a moment of exposition to chance, it has already spelled out for you that Drillbit is actually homeless, a military deserter whose training is limited and morality is suspect. According to Drillbit’s apparent best friend Don (Danny McBride), the best thing about his unexpected gig is the chance to steal the kids and their absent/ignorant parents blind. This is precisely what Drillbit proceeds to do, lifting digital cameras, iPods, and silver serving trays from Wade’s gigantic home, informing his young and naïve employers that each can be used as a secret weapon against the bullies.
All the stealing and lying and bumbling soon become tedious, as the movie devolves into a series of montages (training, bullying, and more training). In order that you can feel reassured that Drillbit’s illicit interest in the boys is strictly material, he goes “undercover” as a substitute teacher at the school, where he meets and promptly seduces the English teacher Lisa (Leslie Mann, a.k.a. Mrs. Apatow and a perennial good sport). Again, much like Dupree, Drillbit is offered up here as a brilliant sex machine as well as an extremely nice guy, who just happens to be lying about his doctorate and dedication to molding young minds. Because Lisa is so vocal about her past as “a loser magnet,” Drillbit is cowed into continued lying, a subplot that has nothing to do with anything, but does prolong the film’s running time to feature length.
Drillbit’s conversion—from stereotypical “loser” to devoted life coach—is as conventional as it sounds. The customary life lessons are doled out by film’s end: meanies get what they deserve, the nice boy wins a girl, and the liar gets to redeem himself (not by finding his “commonality,” but by the most tedious means possible, beating down a bully). When at last Drillbit confesses his sins, the film makes a decidedly odd stab at current events. He was in the military for a short stint, he says, somewhere “in the Middle East… for like half a day.” He recalls seeing camels and hearing explosions, but it was all too terrible, and so he deserted. When he tells Lisa that he’s “homeless,” she’s startled but quick on her feet: “Metaphorically speaking or in a box?” It’s a smart, cute question, and nothing like the rest of the movie.