Nobody, the new action-thriller starring sketch comedy legend-turned-dramatic actor Bob Odenkirk, is not afraid of your John Wick comparisons. The two films share a screenwriter in Derek Kolstad, a producer in David Leitch, and the basic skeleton of a premise — an expert assassin who has sworn off violence for a peaceful family life is drawn into action to wage a one-man war against the Russian mob. Both are the sort of small-scale action movies that, absent a top-shelf star or an eye-catching gimmick, might be condemned to debut on VOD. The success of John Wick makes Nobody an easier sell — “John Wick starring Saul Goodman” is sure to grab social media attention, but that’s the logline for a sketch, not a feature film. Thankfully, Nobody doesn’t rest on its novelty, and Odenkirk’s committed performance brings out enough heart and humor to set the film apart.
The Old Lasagna Recipe
Bob Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a suburban dad whose monotonous routine has made him a sleepwalker through his own life. His marriage to real estate agent Becca (Connie Nielsen, Wonder Woman) has gone cold, his son Blake (Gage Munroe, Brotherhood) barely speaks to him, and his only friend is his nine-year-old daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath, in her first screen role). When a pair of burglars break into the Mansells’ home, Hutch passes up an opportunity to subdue the intruders and lets them get away with what little they’ve stolen. News of his passivity spreads fast and Hutch becomes the subject of scorn and ridicule from a string of other men who express total confidence that, if they’d been in his shoes, they’d have eagerly opened a can of whoopass.
Hutch clearly loathes his peers for their macho posturing as much as they pity him for his apparent testosterone deficit, but his hesitancy to use violence comes from experience, not cowardice. Unlike his clueless neighbors and coworkers who imagine a home invasion as a free pass to beat the shit out of a stranger, Hutch actually knows violence, having spent his prime as a secret assassin for the US government. Nevertheless, his son’s embarrassment and needling from his peers eventually shame him into action, which rapidly snowballs into a bloody conflict with gangster Yulian (Russian actor Alexey Serebryakov) that restores Hutch’s confidence and sense of self.
From its opening minutes, in which we see Hutch grinded down by his work routine and ignored by his family, it’s easy to imagine Nobody becoming a cynical and gross story about a domesticated white man reasserting his dominance through stone-faced cruelty. Mercifully, Nobody is not that film. Hutch isn’t stifled by his humdrum life, he has simply forgotten what it’s like to feel good at something and has consequently stopped making an effort at anything. Once he cuts loose with his exceptional combat skills for the first time in years, the light returns to his eyes and he starts trying again. Instead of quietly bearing his loneliness, he reaches out to his wife about how much he misses her. He tells his son he’s proud of him. He breaks out his old lasagna recipe. Hutch doesn’t win his family back by performing tough-guy masculinity, but through acts of vulnerability and service.
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A Midlife Crisis to Die For
Five years into his critically-acclaimed run on Better Call Saul, it’s no surprise that Bob Odenkirk can more than hold his own as the lead of a feature film, but his debut as an action lead is certainly impressive. Odenkirk throws himself into fight choreography and gunplay with conviction, having spent two years training for the role. The action itself is very much in the John Wick vein (co-coordinator Daniel Bernhardt is a frequent collaborator with David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s 87Eleven Action Design), fast, sharp, and gruesome in a way that can be either shocking or funny depending on context. Director Ilya Naishuller, whose previous feature Hardcore Henry is a self-indulgent 90-minute marathon of violence, clearly relishes in Nobody’s half-dozen escalating setpieces, and his talents as an action director are much better appreciated here, in smaller doses. Nobody is also evidence that Naishuller has aptitudes beyond blood and guts, as the small, tender scenes between Hutch and his family members are also effective, if less memorable.
While contemporarily set, Nobody often reveals an old soul, at times evocative of a mid-budget thriller of the mid-90s. Its soundtrack is peppered with midcentury standards, to the extent that Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” (a mere 42 years old) feels out of place over a car chase. Hutch speaks to a mystery associate (rapper/producer/director RZA) over a shortwave radio; his father (The Christopher Lloyd) tunes out to black-and-white Westerns on TV. But the joy of the film comes in Hutch’s rediscovering boyishness, not just the feeling that he’s reclaimed a more exciting version of his life but the thrill of feeling totally righteous and immune to consequences. Hutch refuses to punish people who don’t deserve it, but when the universe offers him a truly worthy, guilt-free target, he unleashes mayhem with the imagination and barely-contained glee of a six-year-old.
Nobody is a solid enough film that its weaknesses really stand out. There are a few instances of voiceover narration from Odenkirk that are totally unnecessary, and far enough apart that they come as a surprise each time. The film’s weakest scene is a one-off appearance from Colin Salmon (London Has Fallen) as an unnamed government contact who seemingly appears as a tease of a larger world to be explored in sequels, which is the only time Derek Kolstad overplays his hand at trying to make his next John Wick. There’s a confusing musical juxtaposition in which Andy Williams’ rendition of “The Impossible Dream” plays over footage of Yulian (muted) singing a different song entirely, and a handful of other nits to be picked. On the whole, however, Nobody is a fun little action flick fortified by a charismatic lead actor, the kind of tight, light thriller that should be allowed to escape the direct-to-video market to the big screen more often.