Nate Hartley, Owen Wilson, David Dorfman, and Troy Gentile in Drillbit TaylorDRILLBIT TAYLOR

Last summer, when Superbad hit it big, we learned that co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote a first draft of the script when they were 13. Rogen is now credited as co-writer (with Kristofer Brown) for the revenge-of-the-nerds comedy Drillbit Taylor, and although I haven't done any research on the film's history, I'm kind of hoping it's something he began working on when he was, say, eight or nine. Juvenile is one thing, but remedial is quite another, and unfortunately, Drillbit Taylor feels as though it was hastily assembled during a grade-school sleepover in which Rogen began prepping Superbad, with My Bodyguard and Ferris Bueller's Day Off used as additional "inspiration."

How else does one explain the depressingly regressive characters, plotting, and tone of Drillbit Taylor? The story finds three abused high school freshmen - skinny Wade (Nate Hartley), chubby Ryan (Troy Gentile), and flamboyant Emmit (David Dorfman) - hiring the title character as protection from their sociopathic nemesis (Alex Frost). What the boys don't know is that their savior is actually a homeless Army deserter with, at best, questionable ass-kicking abilities, and is more interested in their parents' loot than the kids' welfare.

The My Bodyguard influences are obvious (and admitted - Bodyguard's bodyguard, Adam Baldwin, makes a tongue-in-cheek cameo), as are the Bueller-isms; Drillbit Taylor's authority figures are similarly ineffectual and clueless, and within this film's first ten minutes, we're given an exact reenactment of the scene in which Ferris tears through a suburban backyard where girls are sunbathing, and the race is momentarily interrupted for some good-natured ogling. (Unlike Ferris, though, Wade and Ryan have cameras with them.) However, if you watch the movie experiencing a nagging sense of déjà vu, you're likely not recalling these predecessors so much as Superbad; Hartley, Gentile, and Dorfman are like barely pubescent replicas of Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, only nowhere near as amusing. (Gentile is doubly off-putting, because in addition to channeling Hill, this precocious tyke also barks like Danny DeVito - a frightening combination.)

Yet the real problem with the movie isn't that it's derivative so much as that it's colossally unfunny, or rather, it's only funny in ways that young grade schoolers might enjoy. (Posing as a substitute teacher, Drillbert introduces himself as Doctor Illbert. Get it? Dr. Illbert? Get it?!?) The film is chockfull of childish punchlines and half-hearted slapstick, complete with customary kicks to the nuts, but you can't even give director Steven Brill and company credit for fashioning a decent kiddie comedy, as these elements don't jibe with the film-savvy in-jokes - A lengthy clip from The Untouchables? The Cape Fear theme? - and the "cartoonish" ultra-violence that makes you wince when you should be roaring. (Alex Frost, who played a high-school assassin in Gus Van Sant's Columbine meditation Elephant, might be too good at his job here.)

Until now, I've held off on mentioning that Owen Wilson plays the film's titular protector, because (a) you probably knew that, and (b) the guy probably has enough problems. But watching the actor, in this uninspired role, stuck playing buddy-buddy with a trio of dorks is dispiriting, as is the waste of the brilliant Leslie Mann and Stephen Root, as is the producer's credit given to the suddenly omnipresent Judd Apatow. Not too long ago - last summer, to be exact - I thought I'd be happy seeing the auteur's name on every new comedy released, and with four more Apatow-imprinted works yet to arrive in 2008, that hope is starting to look like a reality. Let's pray that Drillbit Taylor is merely a minor, forgettable hiccup, and not evidence of Being Careful What You Wish For.


Rick Fox and Angela Bassett in Tyler Perry's Meet the BrownsTYLER PERRY'S MEET THE BROWNS

The stereotypes in Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns are no less egregious than those in Drillbit Taylor. But the reason they're not as annoying - and the reason the film is, by a wide margin, a more enjoyable experience - lies in how clearly Perry loves his stereotypes. Like all of this director/writer/producer's cinematic ventures, the movie is formulaic as all get-out and maddeningly erratic, yet it isn't the least bit cynical, and it has a huge leg up on the likes of Drillbit Taylor for another reason - it's actually funny. Being a Tyler Perry project, Meet the Browns is also designed to be Good For You, but the homilies and platitudes here aren't as insufferably insistent as they've been in his previous works, and while his dialogue is occasionally laughable ("I lost my job lately"), the performers manage to make sense of even the most senseless lines. As the harried Chicagoan who finds new life, and new family, in rural Georgia, Angela Bassett gives a gloriously multi-dimensional performance in an overly melodramatic role, and Perry shrewdly casts her opposite some marvelous scene-stealers, including a spectacularly soused Jenifer Lewis and, best of all, David Mann as a floridly emotional deacon with a hysterically tacky wardrobe. Upon meeting him, Bassett's young daughter grins and says, "Mommy, I like the clown!" I do, too, honey.


Megumi Okina in ShutterSHUTTER

The population of the continent of Asia tops 3.8 billion people, and sometimes it seems as though every last one of them has directed a horror movie that Hollywood has now decided to remake. Director Masayuki Ochiai's Shutter, the latest entry in this tiresome genre, concerns a pair of newlyweds who notice a ghostly image in backgrounds of their photographs, and who gradually realize that this image... may in fact be the spirit of the girl they accidentally ran over... who may not be trying to scare them... so much as... warn them. Pass the smelling salts, please. It's a measure of Shutter's ineptitude that the only times you jump during the film are when nothing scary is happening; stars Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor are forever being surprised by the benign presences lurking behind them, and every time they turn around and shriek, the soundtrack blares at you like it's DEFCON-2. (That agonizing cliché of "Oh, it's just the cat" is frequently replaced with "Oh, it's just my spouse" here.) And in case you're wondering where you've seen Taylor before, she was in Transformers. Her eerie resemblance to Naomi Watts in The Ring is, I'm sure, completely coincidental. The film's eerie resemblance to The Ring - and dozens of other scare-flick knock-offs just like it - is perhaps less so.

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