Bob Odenkirk Is a ‘Nobody’ Who Blows Up Everybody in This Darkly Funny Action Ride
We are still living through the age of the normal looking suburbanite hiding killer instincts at the movies. Look no further than “Nobody,” which opens with the kind of burglary scenario that haunts the dream of many a successful American, but ends in a hail of righteous gunfire. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. It’s actually a lot of oddball fun. But the key to its success is Bob Odenkirk of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” fame, who follows in the footsteps of titans like Liam Neeson in proving that a good action movie doesn’t need to be ageist. On the contrary, Odenkirk outdoes many recent action movies starring emerging actors in their 20s.
Odenkirk is Hutch Mansell, a regular suburban husband and father working the same office job every day. His routine is an ever recycling schedule of jogging, breakfast, work and then returning home. His wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) seems bored and the kids, Blake (Gage Munroe) and Abby (Paisley Cadorath) are just there. One night two masked burglars break into their nice house and Hutch confronts them, but when he notices their clumsiness he lets them get away with a few bucks and a watch. Suddenly everyone seems to be subtly or openly shaming him for being such a softie and not getting medieval on the thieves. Yet when he realizes the burglars took Abby’s kitty-cat bracelet, he goes on a hunt that ends with him revealing his deadly skills. It turns out Hutch used to be a CIA operative in charge of “taking care” of problems. His prowl culminates on a bus, where Hutch takes on a group of idiots harassing a female passenger. But it turns out one of the faces he breaks belongs to the brother of a vicious local Russian gangster, Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov).
“Nobody” never attempts to rise above its genre or even mask its influences. Shot and cut with exuberance, it’s a simple, entertaining showcase for Odenkirk as a bone-crunching tough guy hiding under the façade of a nice dad. Yet director Ilya Naishuller, who made the bonkers experiment in style “Hardcore Henry,” does indulge in some satirical fun while pumping up the adrenaline. The screenplay is by Derek Kolstad, writer and director of the “John Wick” movies, and it has the same spirit of commenting on cinema violence while basking in it. While there are plenty of fights, they hilariously take on a hyper reality. For example when Hutch brawls with a group of thugs in a bus everyone gets seriously injured. Sure he can evade a few punches and take everyone down, but by the end he’s in real pain and bruised up, while someone else has lost a few teeth. Moments like this are brilliant in a comedic way, because we’re so used to seeing action movies where the heroes seem to have torsos and face bones of steel. Hutch’s nemesis Yulian is a typical movie Russian gangster, but he also likes to dance onstage and do karaoke to feed his ego before guests, even if his mob superiors get embarrassed. Sometimes it can be the lack of overdone seriousness that makes a movie like “Nobody” enjoyable.
To pull this off you do need, however, an actor who can evoke absolute, straight-faced seriousness. Bob Odenkirk never acts as if he’s in on the movie’s jokes with us. As in “Better Call Saul,” he always looks eternally somber and deceptively helpless. When the action kicks in he’s just as good as any big action name in showing off his middle-aged badass poses. Along with Marvel, this kind of movie has been one of Hollywood’s great anti-ageist trends. “Nobody” may be half-parody, but it’s great to see a scruffy actor with some grey in the beard set a Russian gangster’s money-storing warehouse on fire or stare down some assassins. Odenkirk has a presence based on making Hutch a hero that feels like an everyman. He is the popcorn fantasy of the regular-looking neighbor who has a secret double identity. When mafia hitmen speed towards his house the family has nothing to fear, because of course Hutch has a basement prepped for just such incidents. It’s a trend that became popular the moment Liam Neeson’s daughter was abducted in “Taken” and he made that famous phone call describing his killer skills. Keanu Reeves carried on the tradition avenging his dog in “John Wick,” now Odenkirk joins the club while hunting down a stolen kitty-cat bracelet.
Much of “Nobody” will be familiar to fans of this kind of movie, including a secretive friend of Hutch’s, played by RZA, who we only meet through phone calls and transmissions for the first two acts, giving advice as warnings. The familiarity is a positive because “Nobody” works like what a good little action movie should be: Entertaining while mixing intensity with some comic relief. It’s certainly more entertaining than the 2 hour and 20 minute behemoths some streamers have been dumping out there, where endless ear-pounding action overtakes any semblance of a story. Hutch is likeable and we care for him. He was just having a normal, mundane life until some mobsters got in the way. Odenkirk sells it with wicked pleasure, making it worthwhile to follow him through every punch, kick, dive and shootout.
“Nobody” releases March 26 in select theaters.