In the wake of John Wick‘s somewhat unlikely success…who would figure a story of a man looking to get revenge for his dog’s death would spawn an entire franchise?…it’s been equally surprising how few copy-cats there have been. The most notable spin on the hyper-violent, neon-tinged action spectacle was surely 2017’s Atomic Blonde (directed by one-half of John Wick‘s behind the camera duo), and perhaps it was that effort’s somewhat middling reception that killed off any chance Hollywood might keep tapping this same well over and over again. It’s such a specific niche, it’s a bit difficult to thread the needle that the Wick movies are generally able to. Even those guys can’t repeat it.
Enter Nobody, the newest film by Ilya Naishuller, the Russian musician turned filmmaker who produced the cult favorite first person actioner Hardcore Henry. Nobody takes the basic idea of “an unlikely person has a violent past, something terrible happens that pushes them over the edge, and they go on a violent spree of retribution”. The big draw on this one is that the person in question happens to be Bob Odenkirk, who over the last decade has turned himself from being a brilliant comedic mind to one of the better, most understated actors on television (Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad, do not @ me). But, as wonderful a performer as Odenkirk is, he’s not exactly an imposing physical threat, and thus the appeal. The everyman kicking ass. It worked for Taken, after all!
But the trick is making your audience care between all the punches and about the guy throwing them, and that’s where Nobody starts to run into trouble.
Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a guy so unassuming, when someone breaks into his house and puts his family at risk, he tells his son to let go of the robber who he has in a headlock. Hutch is a 9 to 5 guy and someone who wants to live the ideal nuclear family lifestyle. He even wants to own his own business, hoping to purchase the company run by his father-in-law. But underneath that veneer of normalcy lies someone who has a very dark past, and between the disappointment expressed by his family (you’ll recognize his wife, Becca, played by Wonder Woman‘s Connie Nielsen) after the robbery incident, and the theft of his daughter’s favorite kitty-kat bracelet, he completely loses control and ends up in a violent outburst that will eventually put him in the crosshairs of some very bad people.
For it’s first half, Nobody, while a little thin, skates along decently on the intrigue that surrounds Hutch. You just know he’s going to explode soon and the moment he does, that’s when this movie is destined to actually kick off. Sure, the family is pretty underwritten, and the dialogue is pretty “first draft”, but that first 30 minutes or so is constantly jolted by weird little elements that at the very least keeps you intrigued, from Hutch speaking to a mysterious character over his office stereo set-up, or the equally dark past of his retirement home dwelling father (Christopher Lloyd, yep! That Christopher Lloyd), or the tattoo that he has inside of his wrist that sends violent thugs into recoil. Even the combat, while not as flashily shot as the work of Stahelski and Leitch, is utilitarian enough to get the job done. There’s a good sequence that finds Hutch squaring off with some thugs on a bus, and what I admired most about it, is that Naishmuller allows his lead to get significantly wrecked himself, while putting the hurt onto his targets. You get that sense of a star and filmmaker having an admirable understanding of the physical limitations held within Odenkirk’s frame.
But it all goes downhill once the villain, Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov) is dropped into play. Suddenly, every answer that you’ve been seeking unravels disappointingly, as the film attempts to pivot from its “mythos” and instead drives home buying into Hutch’s character and plight. Thus lies the biggest issue, Hutch is pretty dull. His family is even less interesting because we learn nothing about them, and the affectations given to Yulian do very little to make him a villain worth getting invested in either. It’s very strange, as screenwriter Derek Kolstad is the co-creator of the John Wick franchise, and wrote all three of those features. But unlike that series mostly perfect balance (especially in its first outing) of character, pathos, motivation for revenge, and weird on-the-fringes flavoring, little about Nobody strikes as hard.
Even taken on its own terms, it’s as if the creative team decided to abandon their premise a bit, as the most fascinating aspect of the movie (“Bob Odenkirk gets into fights”) becomes quickly watered down into the usual, unbelievable, superhuman aspects, or is even excised altogether into poorly conceived car chases and gunbattles. It’s just hard to escape the feeling that the filmmakers sat down with a premise…”wouldn’t it be funny if the Better Call Saul guy was John Wick?” and just never developed much of anything beyond that.
A shame, Odenkirk deserves way better, but one thing is clear; for everyone involved hoping to repeat their past success, lightning never strikes twice in the same place…or genre.