If ten years ago, I had made a list of sentences I would never write in a review, surely ”enjoying a Bob Odenkirk action movie” would have to have been one of them. And yet that reality has come to pass and mostly successfully, if somehow both broad and shallow.
Odenkirk’s reinvention as a solid dramatic actor is to thank for a lot of that, adding depth where the script from John Wick’s Derek Kolstad only hints, not to mention genuine emphatic pain as Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell absorbs a ridiculous amount of pain during his normal suburban life getting destroyed. If Nobody has one genuine pleasure, it’s watching Odenkirk attempt to shrug off a kick or punch or bullet, grimace at the painful reality of it, and then plow on regardless.
Of course, it turns out there was nothing normal about his suburban life. Sure, when we meet Hutch, he is just a normal office guy, working in his father-in-law’s machine shop with little connection to his wife or children as he drowns in a stifling routine. It only takes one run-in with a bunch of Russian Mafia Goodfellas for that facade to fall apart, revealing the calculating killer who misses his old ways.
When the mob’s retaliation threatens his family, Hutch must decide whether to go on the run and start again somewhere else or throw away all the trappings of his quiet life and deal with the mafia and their crazed enforcer (Alexey Serebryakov) once and for all and remember his true self in the process. But then, a choice like that is no choice at all.
On the one hand, it is not very fair to Nobody to compare it to John Wick despite sharing a screenwriter and several producers. On the other hand, the film cries out for that comparison almost every minute it is onscreen as it borrows many elements from the original Wick film.
And by borrow, I mean recycle shamelessly. A seemingly content family man is pulled back into a former life of violence by the loss of something small and sentimental (a charm bracelet); the attack brings him face to face with the Russian mob, who he fights off with a powerful muscle car; and in the process, he reveals a hidden world and deeper mythology running its rules.
It’s certainly not a blanket swap, but the influence is unmistakable to the point where it keeps Nobody from fully creating its own identity.
The difference is Odenkirk, who is a better actor if not necessarily a better action actor. To a degree, that works in his favor, as his lack of smoothness plays into his rusty and quietly desperate exterior. It’s less helpful and bordering on silly once he starts setting up death traps and engaging in all-out war, especially with an elderly Christopher Lloyd walking around behind him armed to the teeth.
But he’s very good at explaining Hutch’s inner turmoil about how much he misses his life of violence, even though he knows returning to it will cost him his family. An explanation that comes in hilarious fits and starts as he tries to unburden himself to various defeated mafiosi who keep dying before he can finish.
It’s a sort of tip-of-the-iceberg storytelling that is hit and miss with these types of films, and unfortunately, director Ilya Naishuller misses more often than hits. His first-person shooter experiment, Hardcore Henry, was very good at both slick and brutal violence and slamming a tremendous amount of backstory into hints scattered across a brief running time, but Nobody is not in that league.
The action beats are decent but not flashy, while the main story moments (and particularly anything having to do with the villainous Yulian, whose only defining feature is he likes to sing in his nightclub) get lost in the shuffle.
If nothing else, it shows how much Chad Stahelski and David Leitch brought to the original John Wick script and how much this sort of thing needs that sort of polished guiding hand.
No, it’s not fair to call Nobody low-rent John Wick, even for all the similarities. Odenkirk genuinely brings something different to the genre, even if it costs during the set pieces. It may not work twice, but once is an interesting experiment, if nothing else.
NOBODY REVIEW SCORE: 6.5/10
Universal Pictures‘ Nobody opens in theaters on March 26, 2021. Directed by Ilya Naishuller from a script by Derek Kolstad, the film stars Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov, and Christopher Lloyd.
Nobody was produced by Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Braden Aftergood, Bob Odenkirk, and Marc Provissiero. The executive producers include Derek Kolstad, Marc S. Fischer, and Tobey Maguire.
Joshua Starnes has been writing about film and the entertainment industry since 2004 and served as the President of the Houston Film Critics Society from 2012 to 2019. In 2015, he became a co-owner/publisher of Red 5 Comics and, in 2018, wrote the series “Kulipari: Dreamwalker” for Netflix. In between, he continues his lifelong quest to find THE perfect tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich combination.