Surprise player Bob Odenkirk enters the middle-aged action hero game in Nobody, Ilya Naishuller’s John Wick-y take on the protect-my-family picture. Taking itself much less seriously than the Taken series and its predecessors, it’s a wish-fulfillment romp just as ludicrous as any of them but more fun than most. Just self-aware enough to let a discerning action fan forgive its extremes (including some RED-like geezers-with-guns mayhem near the end), the worst thing you can say about it is this: It’s satisfying enough that it could spawn sequels, possibly distracting its star from the plum dramatic roles he deserves after his brilliant work on Better Call Saul.
Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell enters the film in an interrogation room, covered in abrasions and blood, carrying a few things most people wouldn’t be able to sneak into a police station. A detective asks who he is, and he says “nobody.”
Enjoyably absurd violence goes down easier with wry self-awareness.
The film verifies this with flashbacks that churn through Hutch’s daily life, each morning’s ritual of suburban failure leading to a desk where he stares at a spreadsheet. Hutch is a nobody, all right, and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) doesn’t even seem to see him any more, except when he fails to get the trash can to the curb on time.
Then burglars break into the Mansell home one night, not realizing they’ll only get a few bucks for their effort. Hutch has an opportunity to save the day with violence, but opts for peace, emasculating himself in the eyes of his son and wife.
In a later conversation with a friend (RZA) who may be imaginary, Hutch raises questions as he explains why he didn’t knock an intruder’s block off with his raised golf club: How would this schlub know there were no bullets in her gun? What is he, extensively trained by the most elite, secret forces of the government?!
Turns out, yeah. And what pulls him out of retirement is the kind of touch that makes you think, “Wait, was this movie written by the guy who introduced us to John Wick’s poor dog?” Right again: Hutch is ready to let those burglars go on with their lives until he realizes that, in their haste, they took his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet. Watch out, bad guys.
Nobody only hints at Hutch’s past as its story gets going. In a tattoo shop full of toughs who’re about to tear him up, one glimpses a tattoo of playing cards on his wrist, mutters “thank you for your service,” and locks himself in a safe room, leaving his pals to deal with the stranger. But its action tells us plenty about who he’s become: His family life makes him prone to acts of mercy; but he also prays his opponents won’t take him up on it. And in odds-against-him situations, like a standoff with five mean 20somethings on a public bus, he’ll happily make the odds even worse just to prove to himself that fatherhood hasn’t made him flabby.
This isn’t a parody, but it offers sly humor on many levels. There are a couple of well-timed visual gags, which I won’t spoil; plenty of ironically selected pop classics on the soundtrack; and a colorful Russian mobster named Yulian — “a connected, funded sociopath” played by Alexey Serebryakov — who works the crowd when not directing the many killers who descend on Hutch in the second half.
And of course there’s the casting of Odenkirk, who before Better Call Saul was known mostly for comedy, and who, even when mustering emotional fierceness, is not physically imposing. Once or twice, fans of his work with David Cross might find themselves going on a mental tangent: When Hutch is sending his family off to safety, for instance, promising Becca he’ll explain everything later, you can almost see the fun Mr. Show would have with these tropes.
None of which is to say that Odenkirk doesn’t sell the mayhem Hutch ditches out. He does that surprisingly well. And Naishuller stages the action effectively (that bus sequence stands out), delivering visceral thrills even for those of us who are keeping our distance, reminding ourselves how absurd, even politically problematic, movies like this are. Fortunately, Nobody makes it easy to tell that part of the brain to shut up a while and have some fun.
Production companies: 87North, Eighty Two Films, Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad
Producers: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Braden Aftergood, Bob Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero
Executive producers: Derek Kolstad, Marc S. Fischer, Tobey Maguire
Director of photography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Production designer: Roger Fires
Costume designer: Patricia J. Henderson
Editors: William Yeh, Evan Schiff
Composer: David Buckley
Casting directors: Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham
R, 91 minutes