Review: In ‘Nobody,’ Bob Odenkirk transforms into an action star. It suits him
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“Nobody,” the brutish, comedic action-thriller in theaters this weekend, opens with an image unlike any other brandished by “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk: Sitting in an interrogation room, blood splattered across his denim jacket, gore embellishing his long, bruised face, disheveled, he lights a cigarette. From his jacket he reveals a can of tuna, a can opener and a gray kitten. To which his interrogators ask — “Who the f— are you?”
Established star images are meant to be leveraged. Here, the typically mild-mannered character actor and comedian flexes his everyman persona to portray a somber action hero weary of hiding his true identity.
That depth is the tinge of sophistication the well experienced Odenkirk brings to the Neanderthal shoot’em-up antics of “Nobody,” a violently high-testosterone B-movie that’s more a spoof than a satire of the vengeful-father subgenre. A natural vehicle for director Ilya Naishuller — following his 2016 Russian GoPro-shot sci-fi action flick “Hardcore Henry” — “Nobody” gathers from the familiar blood-soaked stream of “John Wick,” “Death Wish” and the “Taken” franchise to fashion a savage ode featuring the same mettle of its inspirations but with far greater humor attached to the well-worn beats.
Before the opening’s evocative tableau, a listless Hutch lives with his family of four in a gray suburban enclave. Here, the monotony of his everyday — the ding of his metro pass, a mouse click on a spreadsheet, his feet hitting the gravel for a daily run — serves as an unrelenting soundtrack for his anonymous routine as the dull head of a dreary nuclear family.
See, Hutch Mansell used to be someone. Someone special, someone feared. Now he exclusively wears the same beige khakis and blue-and-white-striped polo to his mundane auditing gig at his father-in-law’s nondescript manufacturing plant. It’s telling that we never discover what exactly this bland factory produces — and instead only see the accounting numbers that flash on Hutch’s computer screen. Because while Hutch might be breathing, the father of two isn’t living.
His fortunes change, so to speak, on the night two masked intruders break into his cozy home. They want his money, his watch and his wedding ring. The type of panic most subdued suburbanites would feel evades the unassuming dad. Even after his son (Gage Munroe) jumps a would-be-robber, wrestling him to the ground while Hutch wields a golf club, Hutch fails to act and allows the inept thieves to flee.
The incident leaves his beleaguered son disappointed in his gutless father and Hutch ashamed of himself — a pitiless shame deepened by ridicule from judgmental cops, his leather-jacket toting, ‘72 Challenger-owning neighbor, and gun-flaunting brother-in-law (Billy MacLellan). Hutch dutifully wears the albatross until his young daughter (Paisley Cadorath) cries for the lost kitty-cat bracelet taken by the intruders. As with John Wick and his dog, the trinket unleashes the geyser of simmering rage hidden within.
This family man isn’t your everyday auditor. Rather, the job title serves as a euphemism for Hutch’s very particular set of skills, skills acquired after a long career. Beneath his demure veneer exists a killing machine so classified by the government that a blackmailed Pentagon office worker must traverse to the basement of the intelligence center for information, only to discover a redacted file code-named, simply, “Nobody.”
The dormant assassin shakes his suffocating doldrums to track down the assailants who snatched his daughter’s bracelet. Even after he finds the perpetrators, his vengeful journey, for which he rides the bus into New York City’s seedy underbelly, isn’t enough to satiate his long quelled urges. A walking study of a midlife crisis gone awry, Hutch prays for danger, hoping to send a would-be punk to the hospital. Opportunity literally comes knocking when a load of drunk Euro-bros parade onto the bus.
Although Hutch ostensibly instigates the melee to protect a young woman passenger, “Nobody” isn’t concerned with “Death Wish”-style vigilante justice. Rather, Naishuller grasps the situation as an entry point to greater carnage.
The editing by William Yeh and Evan Schiff for the ensuing five-on-one brawl faintly captures the fluidity of Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir’s work on “John Wick.” While the choreographed bludgeoning — Hutch strangles one guy with a stop requested cord, gets thrown through a bus window, beats another unlucky oncomer with a bus handle, and performs a tracheotomy on a downed victim with a pocketknife and a straw — is a symphony of slapstick violence composed in brilliant clarity. A primal Hutch, beaming a sly smile of satisfaction, revels in the onslaught.
The fracas reveals “Nobody” in its true form: a bleak action-comedy whose biggest laughs stem from a hunger for gratuitous brutality.
Beyond the pain inflicted by Hutch, Odenkirk’s action-star vehicle lacks any deeper emotion, but Naishuller relishes the opportunity to abandon logical storytelling in lieu of bust ‘em up prowess — and to introduce other cartoonish characters.
At one point, Christopher Lloyd, playing Hutch’s gloomy father, hoists a 12-gauge shotgun; a mysterious, horn-playing compatriot (RZA) communicates with Hutch through the radio; and a Russian mob leader and club owner, Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), loves singing and dancing on his Euro-club stage but can kill a man with a smashed martini glass. This last guy hires Pavel (Araya Mengesha), a brooding Black Russian assassin, to hunt Hutch after Yulian’s son dies in the aforementioned bus scuffle.
These aging male characters desperately try to imagine a life outside the underworld, but it’s the sole place they feel whole. That void has gnawed at Hutch, subtracting the passion from his marriage with Becca (a criminally underutilized Connie Nielsen) and making him the butt of his neighbor‘s and brother-in-law’s jokes. “Deep down I always knew it was a facade,” Hutch says of his sleepy suburban life.
And once he literally sends the women and children away, “Nobody” becomes a domain for those egos to run wild again. The film’s hyper-masculine, hard-stomping soul and metal soundtrack takes hold, culminating in a bullet-riddled final showdown at Hutch’s factory.
In “Nobody,” Bob Odenpunches, Odenkicks and Odenshoots for a pulpy dark comedy waiting to thrill junkie B-movie lovers.
Rating: R, for strong violence and bloody images, language throughout and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Opens March 26 in general release; available on VOD April 16
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