One of the most fascinatingly odd Hollywood trends of the past decade has been the remolding of the action genre. With superheroes and comic book characters becoming the popular action stars for the new generation, the traditional action star had to adapt. The surprisingly huge success of Taken ushered in a new subgenre; the old man action movie (or the “geri-action” movie as it was coined). Soon enough, these muscled-up, meathead adonises of the 70s and 80s became grizzled, mean, and pissed off old men with an axe to grind (literally). These violent senior citizens are played by either the aged action stars of old or guys you would never expect would be action hero material, such as Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Sean Penn, or in the case of Nobody, noted funnyman Bob Odenkirk.
Odenkirk plays the titular nobody, Hutch Mansell, an accountant for a manufacturer growing frustrated and disillusioned by the repetitive monotony of his life. When burglars break into his home one night, Hutch decides against using violence to protect his family and lets the robbers leave with their slim pickings. His wife Rebecca (Connie Nielsen) and his son Blake (Gage Munroe) are disappointed Hutch did not stand up for them and start to drift away from him. Though Hutch may look like a harmless everyman who takes life’s indignities and hardships on the chin and soldiers on, there is long dormant and simmering rage inside him that is begging to be unleashed and his resentment towards his inadequacy as a father and a husband is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Hutch’s dark past and his very particular set of skills start to resurface as he leaves a trail of blood and bullets that will soon have the entire Russian mafia coming for him and his family.
Penned by John Wick writer, Derek Kolstad, Nobody certainly shares the DNA of Keanu’s kick-assery, but still manages to have an identity of its own. A lot of that is credit to director Ilya Naishuller whose previous film Hardcore Henry was shot entirely in a first-person perspective. He brings the same manic, high-octane energy of that film to what is a much more conventional action film and the action sequences are all the better for it. The bus fight where Hutch goes toe-to-toe with some rowdy Russian goons is the highlight in this regard. It’s a close-quarters action scene in a confined space where the action is incredibly well shot and choreographed with a great sense of not only spatial awareness, but also strong comedic sensibility.
It feels more grounded and grittier than the John Wick series that keeps getting bigger and sillier with each installment, but the world of Nobody is still a little bit heightened. News of Hutch’s act of pacifism against the burglars prompts some cartoonishly machismo responses that were reminiscent of the parodic level of masculinity presented in Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense. His son, co-workers, neighbors, and even a police officer, all questioning Hutch why he didn’t fight his assailants out when he had the chance lights the fuse that will set him off in an explosion of white-hot anger. The slightly heightened world of Nobody and the absurd way in which many of the characters act shows that both Kolstad and Naishuller have a firm grasp on how to blend comedy with insane action.
That being said, the film’s comic style does veer a little too much into obnoxious Deadpool territory with its use of incongruous music in scenes of slow-motion violence. The film uses this trope far too often and it is eye-roll inducing, whether it’s a Frank Sinatra track playing over Hutch mowing down Russian thugs with a machine gun or Hutch burning a house down to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. While the use of Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” during a car chase is utilized really well and elevates an exciting action sequence, every other discordant soundtrack choice in Nobody falls completely flat.
Nobody would not have worked without the incredible dramatic and comedic talents of Bob Odenkirk and his impressively committed performance. Training for two years before filming even started, Odenkirk’s passion and commitment to this character and the film is all on the screen. He has that vital everyman quality that Hutch needs and is also believable as this retired enforcer that can strike fear in the heart of criminal organizations, but at the same time is not invincible and can easily get the crap beaten out of him. Odenkirk nails Hutch’s rejection of suburban malaise and the grizzled anger that leads him back down his violent past. No surprise to anyone, he is also very funny. He has to hold someone at gunpoint and scream “Give me the goddamn kitty-cat bracelet, motherfucker!” at one point in the film and he is able to come across as menacing and hilarious at the same time.
Though Odenkirk is the main attraction, Nobody does boast an impressive cast, many of whom are underused. Famed Russian actor, Aleksey Serebryekov is doing what he can with a very weak villain role as the mob boss who wants Hutch dead, but sadly ends up being a non-presence. Connie Nielsen has a rather thankless role as Hutch’s wife; Colin Salmon shows up for one scene to dispense some exposition at a barbershop; Christopher Lloyd has some great moments as Hutch’s retired FBI agent father (one of them involving a shotgun); RZA makes a surprise appearance as Hutch’s adopted brother, Harry. Though it would have been nice to see this great supporting cast have a little more to do, Odenkirk’s commanding performance is what you are coming to see and he carries the film on his back with pride.
Nobody easily could have easily lived up to its title by being a generic, forgettable, and anonymous action film, but the dedicated performance from Bob Odenkirk and the energetic stylings of Ilya Naishuller’s direction elevate Nobody to a supremely entertaining action-comedy with an abundance of personality. It’s formulaic for sure, but with the film’s swift pacing and a perfect 92-minute runtime, it is a gloriously fun experience that is well worth the price of admission.
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