Every year, Bob Odenkirk proves himself to be just a little more versatile as an actor. It’s a phenomenon that’s been building since Mr. Show in the 90s, and Better Call Saul was essentially built around it (and is, in my opinion, a stronger show than Breaking Bad from whence it came). If this guy can crush every role you throw at him, why not action?
So the thinking must’ve gone when Universal signed Odenkirk up for Nobody, from Hardcore Henry director Ilya Naishuller and John Wick writer Derek Kolstad. Can Slippin’ Jimmy become Killin’ Jimmy? Bob Odenkirk: action hero is an inspired idea, but unfortunately it seems to be just about Nobody‘s only idea. Maybe it’s so intriguing a prospect that it doomed the project from the start. Once they had the pitch, all the movie had to do was simply exist. And exist it does! Nobody shoehorns Odenkirk into a stock action movie with no real regard for, and without especially utilizing, any of his particular skills.
Okay, give Nobody some credit for the setup. Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell (a Tim & Eric-ready name if ever there was one), your typical hen-pecked suburban dad who never puts the trash cans out in time for the garbage truck and works at a crummy desk job earning him less than his bus bench-famous realtor wife, played by Connie Nielsen (Gladiator). One day, a Bonnie-and-Clyde team of robbers attempts a home invasion. The robbers have guns, but Hutch’s large son tackles Clyde and seems to have him subdued, while a golf club-wielding Hutch seems to have the drop on the Bonnie. Rather than dome her with his Big Bertha, Hutch chooses to minimize the chances of collateral damage by dropping the club and letting the burglars escape. Clyde gives the large son a black eye on his way out. C’mon, dad, why didn’t you nail ’em?
Now, everyone in Hutch’s neighborhood, from his son to his wife to his prick of a neighbor to the first cop on the scene, thinks he’s less than a man. It’s a provocative setup, and a clever articulation of this very American phenomenon, in which restraining the Judeo-Christian vengeance impulse in order to minimize harm to your family can be viewed as less manly than simply putting your loved ones at risk in order to slake your thirst for retributive justice.
The trouble with Nobody is that this intriguing setup has virtually no connection to the movie that follows, in which Hutch Mansell, who turns out to be a semi-retired international assassin, takes on the Russian mob. There’s some embryonic idea here about Hutch getting his groove back by killing lots of people, but it doesn’t really come off because everything seems to happen to Hutch through random coincidence.
The inciting event is a completely random encounter with a gang of toughs on a city bus. That puts Hutch on a collision course with a Russian heavy who manages “The Obshak,” a massive mobile bank for other Russian heavies. So the banker guy takes his gang of henchman on a revenge mission to Hutch’s house and hoo boy is anyone else bored already? Does any part of this movie have anything to do with any other part of this movie? It’s a random grab bag of tropes with no connective tissue.
As for the actual fights, for which everything else in Nobody seems to exist as setup, the execution is more dutiful than inspired. The fight choreography is lively enough, with lots of impalings and dutifully staged face bashings, but nothing with the mayhem and glee of the library book fight in John Wick 3 or virtually any of the stunts in Extraction. Bob Odenkirk isn’t Tony Jaa, obviously, but whatever combination of Odenkirk and his stunt double they employed here looks perfectly acceptable. But he could be virtually any actor here. “Bob Odenkirk as an action hero” is an idea that seems to have spawned zero further ideas. Again, it seems like the filmmakers’ challenge was to get this movie finished, not make it any good.
Naishuller eventually does finish Nobody, but only thanks to long stretches of slow-motion montages set to Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Heart, etc. Naishuller cut his teeth making music videos and can’t seem to bear filming any action that isn’t set to a song. It gives every scene a sense of cutesy unreality regardless of context, like we’re watching a dream sequence or a big-budget commercial that never cuts to the slogan. It’s a collection of shiny filmmaking tricks in search of a reason for existing. It has the soul of a car commercial. After 90 or so minutes of cynical plate spinning, Nobody‘s one big idea, Bob Odenkirk as action hero, remains largely an abstraction.