Nobody makes Bob Odenkirk kill a lot of people. Sometimes, it even thinks about why. Now, if all the movie—or the trailer, or even just the premise—makes you think is “That’s just John Wick with the guy from Mr. Show,” well…you’re not wrong. It’s got a middle-aged killer who, yes, is thinkin’ he’s back in a world populated by people with names like The Barber. The script comes from Wick franchise screenwriter Derek Kolstad and it’s helmed by Ilya Naishuller, whose music video for his band Biting Elbows’ “Bad Motherfucker” (in which he starred) was an innovative hit that led to his POV film Hardcore Henry. Clearly, Naishuller has an eye and a mind for innovative action—especially that which blurs the line between traditional cinema and the first-person positionality of videogames. What’s less clear is if Odenkirk is the right participant for said action or even if, in putting him into a genre that should spit him right back out, Nobody manages to stand out.
From the jump, it’s clear that Hutch (Odenkirk) is living in the kind of movie that unleashed the killers lurking inside of Choi Min-sik and Dustin Hoffman’s unsuspecting milquetoasts. He’s got a routine: A dull job, a dull family, a dulled father (Christopher Lloyd, great in his few segments) in a retirement home. Normalcy. Anyone familiar with revenge thrillers or Wickian action knows that something’s gotta give.
But what do clichéd points of emasculation—a wife (Connie Nielsen) with a better job who nags about the garbage and isn’t sleeping with him; a muscle car neighbor; a literal bro-in-law whose military history is (on the surface) more impressive than his—mean when that underlying badass is knowingly suppressed? What does it mean when hiding away from the toxicity and violence was a choice—especially one that the film teaches us to root against? We’re trained, alongside the film’s characters, to want to see Hutch return to action just like Keanu Reeves seeking revenge. And, though his motivations are far less than those behind Wick’s vengeance-seeking, there are hints that all it was really ever going to take to push Hutch back into his old ways was a nudge from a nobody.
It’s a complicated spin on a genre’s tropes that doesn’t really commit to its wishy-washy characterization, where this retired killer reluctantly (but not too reluctantly) grapples with his primal love and fear of violence. He’s a little like a 2-D Tony Soprano: A masquerading family man never happier than when he’s unleashing the beast. This relationship to kills ‘n’ thrills, tied to the increasing affections of his family—perhaps a surrogate for us, the viewers, who came to this film only interested in Hutch as an ass-kicker—is uneven and shallow, leaving little room for Odenkirk’s nuance. That’s especially disappointing considering Odenkirk’s proven ability with charm, regret, addiction and self-sabotage in Better Call Saul.
The story’s thematic confusion isn’t really helped by Kolstad sprinkling in tongue-in-cheek absurdity throughout a pretty conventional Archer-esque rampage—even if it can be plenty amusing. I’m sure Odenkirk had fun yelling, “Give me the goddamn kitty-cat bracelet, motherfucker!” but he wouldn’t be very good at delivering these lines even without the novelty/distraction of his front-and-center play against type. The action, on the other hand, is of that clever brand that understands the bond between violence and slapstick. Here, Odenkirk fulfills the premise’s strange promise. He’s great at selling hits and stumbling through an environment, a career of landing dry and/or absurd gags translating to these R-rated Three Stooges brawls. And boy, does Naishuller love a joke—visual or otherwise.
He throws plenty of cutaways and cues at the wall, and they often stick. A background Touch of Evil poster signals both Hutch’s relapse (into violence, not alcohol) and the literal dash of devilment somewhere deep inside him. Our pop culture’s saturation with war movies helps mask actual gunshots. Aside from these spurts of smarm, Naishuller keeps things moving and has a knack for framing—certainly helped by Hereditary and Midsommar cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski—that catches the action well and keeps the in-between interesting. However, like the character at its core, it all culminates in some fairly stupid action conventions, like its unhinged Russian big bad (pissed off for family reasons, he’s also the current caretaker of the “obshak” which sadly never gets its own B-52’s line-reading).
Even in its over-the-top finale, Nobody never quite reaches the bloody ballet of Wick, nor the depth that franchise’s odd underground world offered, which dulls the tip of its action. Why are we watching this unstoppable supersoldier tell the better angels of his nature to go fuck themselves? Is it because that’s just what happens when someone’s life reverts into an action movie? There’s something to be said about the movie’s attempts at conversation with its own genre, but these conciliatory gestures—both meta and in-universe—always fall short as it regresses into the kind of meathead movie you’d expect where violence is always the answer. Nobody is more than its stunt casting, but its intentionally unremarkable title ends up being all too accurate for this run-of-the-mill (if well-crafted) shoot-em-up. Hutch cannot suppress nor escape his violent training, past and urges; Nobody cannot suppress nor escape the magnetic pull of its genre’s conventions.
Directors: Ilya Naishuller
Writers: Derek Kolstad
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Aleksei Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd
Release Date: March 26, 2021 (Theatrical); April 16, 2021 (VOD)
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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