Bob Odenkirk has come a long way. After starting off as a comedic performer he’s blossomed into a strong dramatic lead thanks to his excellent work on Better Call Saul. Now he’s going even further, becoming a full-blown action star for Nobody, a new wham-bam shoot-em-up from writer Derek Kolstad, one of the creators of the John Wick franchise. And while Odenkirk is surprisingly great as a gun-toting ass-kicker, the film built around him ultimately amounts to little more than a pale imitation of the John Wick series.
Meet Hutch Mansell, a boring suburban dad who is stuck in a rut. Every day he wakes up, goes for a jog, pours himself some coffee, and heads off to a job that requires him to stare at Excel spreadsheets for hours on end. His young daughter (Paisley Cadorath) dotes on him, but his older son (Gage Munroe ) and his wife (Connie Nielsen) seem cold and distant. When Hutch eventually climbs into bed with his wife there’s a pillow serving as a literal barrier between them.
That familial distance is widened after two thieves break into Hutch’s home one night to rob the joint. At one point during the burglary, Hutch clearly has the drop on the pair and could, in theory, disarm them. But he doesn’t. The burglars get away, and Hutch’s family sees him as even more of a weakling than before. Even the cops who respond to the robbery call are surprised at how little this guy did to protect his family.
But Hutch has a secret. He may look like a dull dad, but once upon a time, he was a deadly government assassin. And while he’s tried to tamp down his murderous urges, the home invasion triggers something in him – a kind of existential crisis that sends him out into the night, looking for blood, ready to punch his knuckles bloody. This opening act sets Nobody up to be kind of like Death Wish of a Salesman, and Odenkirk is dynamite at playing up Hutch’s conflicted nature and inner turmoil. He thought settling down would make him happy, but now he’s on the verge of embracing violence once again.
Director Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) plays ups Hutch’s inner malaise with quick cuts and long, silent moments of Odenkirk looking pathetic and beaten. But these reflective bouts don’t last long, and before you know it, Hutch ends up in a bloody brawl with some creeps on a public bus. Here, Nobody does an interesting thing: when Hutch finally starts fighting back, he’s not an unstoppable ass-kicker. After all, he’s been out of the game for a long time, so he’s bound to be rusty. So rusty, in fact, that the tough guys on the bus beat the living shit out of him – at least at first.
Naishuller is quite good at directing action, and the bus brawl is brutal, in a funny sort of way. We’re expecting Hutch unleashed to be the ultimate badass, but instead, he gets tossed around and smashed through a window. Of course, since he’s our hero, it’s only a matter of time before he manages to compose himself and start winning the battle. None of this would work if Odenkirk weren’t convincing in the role, but the fight training the actor clearly underwent pays off – we really do buy that Hutch can beat the living shit out of these guys if he works himself up enough.
There’s an element of male fantasy run amock built into all of this – the impotent man who reclaims his manhood by drawing blood. Sure enough, after defeating the goons on the bus, Hutch returns home renewed. Sure, he’s covered in cuts and bruises, but his wife is ready to take him back into his arms. And the next day, even his son is seeing his dad in a new light. Everything’s coming up Hutch!
Unfortunately, one of the guys on the bus Hutch injured is the brother of a vicious Russian gangster (why is it always the Russians in these movies?). That would be Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), one of the blandest movie villains in recent memory. Nobody tries to inject life into this character by making him “quirky” – he owns a night club and he likes to go on stage and sing, badly. But there’s nothing to this guy beyond his scowling, and sadly, that lack of development extends to Nobody as a whole.
While the opening act of Hutch getting his ultra-violent mojo back hooks us, the rest of Nobody fizzles, with the film becoming a John Wick clone that’s severely lacking in John Wick‘s style. The film is in such a hurry to get to the action that everything and everyone else takes a backseat. Characters are introduced but we learn absolutely nothing about them – like Hutch’s nursing home-bound father, played by a growly Christopher Lloyd. Hutch also has a brother, played by RZA, but he spends almost the entire film off-camera, talking to Hutch via radio, before randomly showing up at the very end. Who is this guy? What’s his deal? Nobody sure doesn’t care. Perhaps they’re saving all that pesky “character development” stuff for a sequel.
Still, it can’t be denied that it’s fun to watch Odenkirk turn into an action star. Not only does he get to fire off some guns and punch and kick his way through crowds of nameless henchmen, he also gets to partake in a fast-paced, well-shot car chase. And if that wasn’t enough, we get a kind of R-rated Home Alone finale, with Hutch rigging up a warehouse with deadly booby traps. All of this should make Nobody a winner – and yet, the film is weirdly inert. The ultraviolence will only get you so far. John Wick didn’t exactly break the mold, but it felt fresh and exciting thanks to a combination of style and world-building. Nobody seems to think that if it follows a paint-by-numbers Wick formula, that’ll be enough. It’s not, and that’s a damn shame, because Bob Odenkirk: Action Hero deserves better.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
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/Film – ‘Slash Film: ‘Nobody’ Review: Bob Odenkirk is the Best Part of This Disappointing ‘John Wick’ Clone’
Author: Chris Evangelista
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March 22, 2021