Nobody is Bob Odenkirk’s John Wick

Nobody is Bob Odenkirk’s John Wick

The thing that sucks about both Death Wish movies is that their casting essentially negates what they’re trying to say. The main character in the novel and 1974 film is supposed to be this pacifist, milquetoast coastal elite type — exactly the kind of guy you wouldn’t expect violence from. Casting Charles Bronson may have helped the film turn into an endless franchise of fascist-adjacent action movies, but the fact that his whole brand was that he’s a taciturn macho dude who kills people before he was cast in Death Wish casts a pall on the whole thing. Eli Roth’s 2016 remake remedied that by casting Bruce Willis, who is possibly even more taciturn and macho than Bronson; to see Willis sleepily personify a wimpy surgeon does not convince. In fact, there are very few revenge movies in which the person who snaps is cast in a convincing way, and practically all of them are women. 

It seemed to me that Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody was finally going to make good on that premise by casting Bob Odenkirk as a regular suburban dad out for vengeance, but even his casting proves to be more than a little gimmicky. It’s going to be impossible to discuss Nobody without heading into some spoiler territory — but less to reveal important plot points and more to discuss the elephant in the room: that Nobody presents itself as Death Wish but is really more of a good-natured John Wick riff. (It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering both the John Wick films and Nobody were written by the same dude.) Once the disappointment subsides, you’re left with a solid (if more than a little boilerplate) action movie and this version of Death Wish that I am apparently upset with continues to live in my private mind garden.

Bob Odenkirk in Nobody

Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) is a typical suburban dad, punching the clock as management in some kind of warehouse and living in a bucolic suburb with his realtor wife (Connie Nielsen), teenage son (Gage Munroe) and pre-teen daughter (Paisley Cadorath). His life is banal and repetitive and comfortable, until two masked intruders burst into his house one evening and Hutch refuses to defend himself. The decision is seen as weakness by his family and eventually by Hutch, who nevertheless has pretty good reasons not to engage. As the seething and resentment grows, Hutch finds himself on a bus with five ruffian bros who harass a young girl — so he takes them all out with a verve and a dexterity uncommon to warehouse managers. As it turns out, Hutch hasn’t always been a dopey suburban dad, and he’s now made a very powerful enemy in the Russian mob by taking out his brother on that city bus.

I suppose it’s fair to say that Nobody never promised me that it wasn’t going to be an action movie with Russian nightclubs and warehouses and homemade systems of booby traps and such; I simply assumed it wouldn’t be. Nevertheless, it’s a bit dispiriting that all of Nobody’s great ideas are contained within the casting of Odenkirk. Everything else is stuff you’ve seen before, from the attention-seeking Russian mobster who loves to sing to the parade of secret badasses that Hutch remains in contact with to the octogenarian father character (played with great gusto by Christopher Lloyd) who suddenly snaps out of senility when violence is afoot. 

Nobody is pretty good at all these familiar things it puts forth, granted. What it lacks in originality it more or less makes up for with enthusiasm. Naishuller is best known for directing Hardcore Henry, a non-stop smorgasboard of over-the-top nonsense filmed in the first person that more or less diluted its technical achievements in caffeinated excess. Nobody is considerably less hyper, though Naishuller still busts out the long takes every once in a while and seems particularly enamored with ironic needledrops. The action scenes are undeniably pretty good, and the whole movie builds up to one of the more satisfying “warehouse showdowns” in recent memory — bringing in the ever-popular “booby traps from a hardware store” angle (as seen in The Equalizer, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Gemini Man and American Ultra, amongst others) to the world of grey warehouse carnage.

It’s unfortunate that such large swathes of Nobody are interchangeable with so much unmemorable action cinema of the last decade, because there’s definitely the core of a strong and compelling action film somewhere under the layers of generic tropes and additions. Odenkirk is a compelling figure despite the rather unoriginal aspects of his character and Naishuller has a few decent tricks up his sleeve. Nobody’s great failure — and perhaps its only one — is that it seems rather content with being just good enough. ■Nobody opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 26. Watch the (R-rated) trailer here:

Bob Odenkirk stars in Nobody, directed by Ilya Naishuller

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