Thursday, March 25, 2021

Need revenge? Better call Bob Odenkirk


    Nobody — a prime example of preposterous violence and brutal action tropes — feels derivative and self-conscious in its attempts to dish out as much cathartic vengeance as 91 minutes allows.
   But there is one distinguishing difference between Nobody and the rest of the field: Bob Odenkirk.
   Famous for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Odenkirk makes an unlikely avenger, a new champion of butt-kicking manhood.
    Director Ilya Naishuller begins in a minor key. Odenkirk plays Hutch, a drab guy living a resigned life of droning repetition.  Hutch sleeps next to the wife Becca (Connie Nielsen). She keeps a pillow between them to ward off any possibility of sex. 
    He takes a bus to the small factory where he handles accounting chores. He watches his kids come and go, indifferent to what appears to be Dad's meaningless life.
   Odenkirk seems to have opted to play an anti-Saul Goodman. No wheels churn as various schemes play out in a restless mind. There's no sense that he’s one step ahead of a disaster that he won’t be able to dodge.
   From the start, it looks as if disaster already has struck Hutch's nondescript life, void of even  the desperation that might have given it flavor.
   And then the movie begins in earnest. During a home invasion, Hutch finds himself poised to deliver a violent blow to one of the invaders. He demurs, allowing the man and woman to flee. 
    Non-violence comes with a cost. Hutch’s son (Gage Munroe) sees his father's choice as an act of cowardice, although some of Hutch’s co-workers say they respect the pragmatic nature of his decision. After all, no one was killed.
     A low body count, however, doesn't make for a thriller that draws its energies from violent vapors extending as far back as 1974's Death Wish and ably continued here by director Ilya Naishuller.
    A note of caution: The movie's violent choreography is no match for, say, the John Wick movies.
   Predictably, Hutch has a mysterious a past. And, of course, that past involves his ability to wreak violent havoc, to inflict punishment even as he takes beatings that would kill a lesser man.
   The first hint that Hutch isn't the man he appears to be arrives when he exposes a secret radio in his office that allows him to talk to his adoptive brother (RZA), a black man who we learn has had to go into hiding for reasons of his own.
    Hutch also visits his father (Christopher Lloyd),  a dad who knows that his son inevitably must rise like an avenging Phoenix and reclaim his true identity. 
     Of course, it's all nonsense. But then there's Odenkirk. 
     Odenkirk doesn't have the physically imposing stature of, say, a Liam Neeson, who, unlike Hutch, always seems to be trying to rescue an imperiled family member. Hutch isn’t saving his family, which the movie conveniently ushers to safety.  Nobody turns a nonentity into a capably violent avenger.
     What’s Hutch trying to save? Maybe his self-respect.
     The movie wastes little time getting down to its real business, staging explosive confrontations that lead to a showdown with a sadistic Russian mobster (Alexey Serebryakov). 
    A freelancer who launders money for the Russian mob, Serebryakov's Yulian is so vicious even the Russian mob finds him a bit over-the-top.
        If you're not part of the crowd that loves this kind of over-cranked violence machine, don't bother. Otherwise, Nobody sustains interest, even though the movie’s exaggerated finale feels like the filmmakers are paying off a genre debt, which they are.
     Nobody concludes with an epilogue suggesting that someone might be thinking franchise, an all-too-familiar prospect. I hope Odenkirk, who'll be wrapping up Better Call Saul this year,  finds something else to do. Wouldn't it be great if once were enough?

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