It’s hard not to grin the first time Owen Wilson appears on screen in “Drillbit Taylor.” The perpetually good-natured goof plays Drillbit, a homeless man who may or may not have been in the Army but now showers nude on the beach and has friendly chats with the passing motorists who throw him change. He harbors a dream to run away to Canada, but with such an easygoing attitude, he doesn’t seem to care whether he gets there or not.

Wilson has been avoiding the public eye since his suicide attempt last fall (this movie was filmed prior to the incident), but there’s no evidence of depression or trouble in his performance. Instead, he’s perfected his trademark persona from films like “Wedding Crashers” and “Starsky and Hutch” to the point of slacker Zen, and the result is a breezy, low-key comedy with just enough giggles to make it worthwhile.

Here, though, Wilson plays second fiddle to two nerds who have just entered high school. Wade (Nate Hartley, TV’s “iCarly”) and Ryan (Troy Gentile, “Nacho Libre”) want nothing more than to be accepted by their peers and land some girls along the way. But, as the law of high school dictates what must happen to all nerds, they immediately meet the anger of the nastiest bully in school, who decides to make their lives a living nightmare. As played by Alex Frost (“Elephant”) with murderous glee, Filkins is not an ordinary neighborhood tough. He is so savage and relentless with his torment – at one point attempting to run over the kids with his car – that he becomes a high-school aged Anton Chigurh, the unstoppable killer in last year’s “No Country for Old Men.” Plus he’s a legal adult, emancipated from his parents, which makes him, as one victim puts it, “above the law.”

Drillbit is hired by Wade and Ryan as a bodyguard. At first he just takes the job for easy money, teaching the guys bogus techniques like the “Bear Hug,” but soon he grows to respect the kids and makes it his mission to help them. He disguises himself as a substitute teacher and infiltrates the high school, where he is free to exact revenge on Filkins and get cozy with the hot English teacher, Lisa (Leslie Mann, “Knocked Up”). Does it make sense that Drillbit could transition so easily from being a bum to a fake sub? Not at all, but this fact only partially diminishes the satisfaction of seeing him stick-it to the bullies.

The film pulls no punches about the survival-of-the-fittest world of high school, and allows its heroes to get beaten up worse than most movie nerds (black eyes and fat lips replace wedgies and swirlies). This shouldn’t be too surprising since the script was co-written by John Hughes, the creator behind the brilliant ’80s teen satires “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.” However, considering that one of the other credited writers is Seth Rogan (“Superbad”), a few more laughs should have been in order. Still, “Drillbit Taylor” coasts by on Wilson’s pure charm and the thrill of watching the nerds get their revenge.

3 Stars

Drillbit Taylor

At Quality 16 and Showcase

Paramount

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