What do you get when one of the creators of the John Wick franchise teams up with the director of brutal action-comedy Hardcore Henry? I know I know, there’s a crucial missing ingredient and that’s unlikely action star Bob Odenkirk, about as far from an ass-kicker as one is likely to see. Well, when you put those things together you get Nobody, a fun-but-forgettable shot of adrenaline that never aspires to be more than that.
The most obvious thing you’ll take away from Nobody is Odenkirk, who has come such a long way from the Mr. Show days. The Better Call Saul star is about as “everyman” as it gets, which is precisely what the film wants you to think about its lead character, Hutch Mansell. A seemingly dull, ineffectual suburban dad with a hot-but-bored wife (Connie Nielsen), two kids including a son who barely acknowledges his existence, and one of those lame number-crunching jobs that screams “middle management”.
Hutch doesn’t have much going on, and shit only gets worse when a pair of armed criminals bust into his home. One of them slugs Hutch’s son right in the face, and at one point he has a chance to take the robbers out but instead backs off. Hutch lets them escape, making him look like even more of a loser in the eyes of his family. The cops who come to investigate don’t mince words about how weak Hutch looks, and the same goes for the guys at work.
But here’s the thing: Just as you don’t fuck with John Wick’s dog, you don’t fuck with Hutch Mansell’s daughter’s kitty cat bracelet. The theft of it triggers something within Hutch, something he had been holding back for years. It’s time to get violent again, and embrace that primal side he’s been hiding since his days as the most lethal government assassin ever.
While imperfect, Nobody is a damn sight better than the Bruce Willis Death Wish remake in capturing a normal man’s vengeful rampage and inner conflict. Perhaps it’s because Odenkirk is just a better actor than Willis is right now. But also, it’s that Nobody better balances Hutch’s turmoil with a heavy dose of comedic violence. Sure, it’s really quite gory as well, such as in a grisly fight on a bus that finds Hutch bloodying his fists against a group of trouble-makers. This being public transportation, the quarters are cramped and a lot of faces gets rammed into steel poles, strung up in “stop” chords, and slung into chairs. The best thing about it is that Hutch isn’t some indestructible superhero; he’s just a guy, and one who is woefully out of practice. He gets his ass beat, too.
The plot is ramped up when one of Hutch’s early victims happens to be the son of karaoke-singing Russian mobster Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), who wants some revenge of his own. Honestly, Yulian is pretty weak and the goons he sends after Hutch even more so, with the exception of one guy, a black Russian Olympic athlete, who is constantly called-out for being…well, black and Russian. I guess that’s rare?
Behind the camera is Hardcore Henry‘s Ilya Naishuller, with a script by John Wick franchise writer Derek Kolstad. He’s also one of the guys behind Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the little-seen action film The Package with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren, which is when I first heard of him. He makes testosterone-fueled movies for bros, and that’s cool. When Hutch returns home after indulging in his darker side, he’s suddenly Mr. Machismo to his family again. He’s found renewed vigor by tapping in to that primal urge. This is a theme Kolstad has often embraced in his scripts, but he seems at a rush to get past it here and on to the next fight. Naishuller knows how to balance vicious brawls with a dash of light humor, and of course, Odenkirk is a comedian whose timing is perfection. None of this would work if it weren’t for him and whatever fight training he underwent to get in shape for the role.
However, it’s impossible to escape how thin Nobody is. At a slight 90-minutes there’s little time to create the kind of lived-in world that we got in John Wick. A great deal about Hutch’s past is teased, but not much else. We’re introduced to Hutch’s father (Christopher Lloyd), a retiree who has own violent urges to contend with; while RZA plays an old friend who shows up out of nowhere to save the day. We learn nothing about either of them and it’s like they’re planning a sequel that may or may not ever happen. Some details now would’ve served Nobody quite well, because there’s already a lot to like. It just needs a bit more detail to go from a nobody into a somebody of the action genre.