Universal teams up with Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk and John Wick’s creator for some bloody B-movie thrills
Dir: Ilya Naishuller. US. 2021. 92mins.
A clever John Wick riff that places a seemingly wimpy everyman in the Keanu Reeves role, Nobody delivers ultra-violence and B-movie attitude while trying to avoid overextending its thin premise. Bob Odenkirk plays a mild-mannered family man who, after a traumatic home invasion, takes matters into his own hands, reconnecting with a dark past that comes in handy once he starts messing with Russian mobsters. This stylish, superficial lark is perhaps too pleased with its central conceit, but director Ilya Naishuller keeps the mayhem and dark laughs rolling at a steady clip.
At a time when high-octane action films are hard to come by, Nobody provides some bloody escapism.
Opening March 26 in the US and June 11 in the UK, this Universal release will cater to John Wick aficionados — Nobody screenwriter Derek Kolstad created that unexpectedly-successful franchise — as well as fans of Odenkirk, a veteran comic who has recently earned acclaimed for the drama series Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. At a time when high-octane action films are hard to come by, Nobody should provide some bloody escapism.
Hutch (Odenkirk) appears to be an unremarkable working stiff whose marriage has grown stale and whose kids don’t respect him. (He and wife Becca, played by Connie Nielsen, sleep with pillows in between them like a Great Wall.) Armed robbers break into his house one night, but when Hutch has a chance to get the jump on one of them, he inexplicably declines to use the golf club he’s holding. Although nobody is hurt, his family is ashamed of his cowardice — but, as we’ll soon learn, Hutch has a secret reason for not attacking the robbers. In his quest to uncover the crooks’ identity, Hutch will cross paths with Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov), a fearsome gangster who knows his history of violence, which this family man wants to remain hidden.
Initially, Nobody seems headed toward Straw Dogs territory, depicting a beta-male’s discovery of his more aggressive tendencies while protecting those he loves. But it turns out that Hutch’s meek demeanour is a disguise: he’s actually a former CIA assassin who walked away from the job, marrying an unsuspecting Becca and building a tranquil suburban existence. Not unlike John Wick, who was retired before mobsters murdered his dog, Hutch is returning to his old, deadly self.
What’s different about the two pictures, of course, is that Reeves had an action-film background, whereas it’s a funny shock to watch Odenkirk as he skilfully kills baddies. And although stunt doubles certainly assist Odenkirk during Nobody’s hand-to-hand-combat set pieces, the actor capably conveys Hutch’s calm menace, making the leap from regular guy to lethal weapon with relative ease.
Kolstad’s script does some of the same inventive world-building as in John Wick, and indeed part of the fun is learning how complicated Hutch’s elaborate ruse has been. (As Hutch’s elderly father, Christopher Lloyd gets laughs when we learn that he’s not really a kindly, frail grandpa.) But the novelty of these reveals can only carry the picture so far, which puts the burden on director Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) to come up with inventive action scenes once Yulian orders Hutch eliminated.
Thankfully, Nobody’s dynamic sequences find Hutch dispatching his foes, whether during gonzo car chases or a brutal finale in the warehouse where he works. Gruesome deaths are par for the course with a film like this, and Naishuller doesn’t skimp on the over-the-top violence. To be sure, he indulges in some familiar gimmicks. (Ironic juxtapositions between slow-motion carnage and sentimental pop standards, such as Louis Armstrong’s ’What A Wonderful World’, are nothing new.) But despite Naishuller’s distracting showiness, Nobody is so smoothly executed that its shopworn elements aren’t too much of an issue.
For years, Odenkirk was known for cult comedy programs like Mr. Show before signing on to play shady attorney Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (and, subsequently, Better Call Saul), which demonstrated his dramatic chops. Nobody might have been a greater revelation before Breaking Bad, but nonetheless the film (which Odenkirk produced) allows the actor to meld both sides of his onscreen persona: the deceptively bland everyman that was central to his comedy and the quiet authority he brings to Saul Goodman.
His supporting cast, especially a sidelined Nielsen and a hammy Serebryakov, are largely peripheral to this star vehicle, but Odenkirk proves to be a compelling presence, always underplaying the humour so that Hutch comes across as a believable enforcer despite his bland appearance. Nobody will confuse this picture with the dizzying heights of the Keanu Reeves franchise, but Nobody ought to tide genre fans over until the next John Wick instalment.
Production companies: 87North, Eighty Two Films, Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment
Worldwide distribution: Universal
Producers: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Braden Aftergood, Bob Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad
Production design: Roger Fires
Editing: William Yeh, Evan Schiff
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Music: David Buckley
Main cast: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, Alexey Serebryakov, RZA, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon, Christopher Lloyd