Sunday, May 2, 2021

Nobody is (narrowly) more hit than miss

You know Bob Odenkirk from many different places. Any fan of 1990s comedies knows about his and David Cross's Mr. Show sketch comedy program.  He's also lent his distinctive comic sensibility to the original run of Conan O'Brien as an NBC late-night talk show as a writer. Then, of course, there's his work on Breaking Bad as Saul Goodman, which has brought him a whole new level of notoriety as a performer. Now, with Nobody, Odenkirk transitions into the position of action hero. The results aren't perfect but they're fun enough to remind us all that Odenkirk is a versatile performer very much worth keeping an eye on.

In Nobody, Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a suburban dad who works a 9-to-5 job at a local construction plan. His relationship with his wife, Becca (Conne Nielsen), is frayed, his teenage son doesn't respect him, and a break-in into his house has left him even more rattled. What he's kept a secret is that he's actually an ex-killer for the U.S. government. Mansell is actually a dude who can hold himself in a fight, no problem. A frustrated Mansell decides to prove this to a group of hooligans on a bus, which results in a lot of carnage. One of those hooligans is the brother of Russian gangster Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov). Mansell has long been content to be a nobody in suburbia. But now his old skills will be required if he wants to survive the violence Yulian is sending to him and his family.

Considering its premise of a seemingly mellow dude with a violent past and that they even share a screenwriter (Derek Kolstad), it's easy to see Nobody as John Wick 2.0, particularly when they have a scene where the villain expresses frustration over having crossed a guy with a genuinely imposing history. John Wick didn't invent the secret bad-ass subgenre, so it's easy to see Nobody being capable of establishing its own identity. Unfortunately, the film can't quite escape the shadow of the movies it's cribbing from. The edges of this fictional universe are left just too vaguely defined for it to hop over the line into an action movie classic. 

It's also worth mentioning that Nobody's central character arc is kind of a mess. Setting this in a distinctly more realistic universe than, say, John Wick means that Mansell finding solace in violence hits different here than it would under stylized circumstances. Is this movie poking fun at dudes who think of steady suburban existence as a suffocating hell or is it genuinely trying to be a fantasy for those same dudes? It's a strange juggling act that Nobody can't quite nail, even if Bob Odenkirk lends the protagonist a consistently engaging quality in his screen presence. The good thing, though, is that it does hit a bullseye on one of its most important qualities: the action sequences. 

Though the film's one-shot gimmick wore off very quickly, irector Ilya Naishuller still showed off memorable action movie chops with his work on the 2016 film Hardcore Henry. Now armed with a more versatile style of camerawork, Naishuller really comes alive as an action filmmaker. He delivers an assortment of brutal showdowns that make fun use of the unique aspects of the environments they're set in. Who knew a bus had so many items you could use to fight off bad guys? All of it's captured in crisp editing that rarely undercuts the action beats while Naishuller's embracing of over-the-top moments ensures there's plenty of memorable fun moments of carnage here. 

This is especially true of the film's final half-hour, which is where Nobody really hits its stride. The underlying implications of Mansell's actions aren't automatically rectified, nor is some distracting instances of clunky dialogue. But I had a stupid grin on my face for this entire stretch of Nobody as Mansell takes out bankers, engages in a car chase before having an exhilarating showdown with an army of Russian mobsters in a factory. This is what we all came to see and Nobody delivers just the kind of cheer-worthy action beats you want. It's not the next John Wick, but by the time the third act is in full gear, Nobody packs a wickedly fun punch.

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