If you happen to be a psychopathic Russian drug lord with a yen for extinguishing human lives, the takeaway from “Nobody” might well be to think twice before you antagonize a mild-mannered American suburbanite who has rediscovered his inner
That’s the matchup in this bloody mashup of ultraviolent tropes. The film stars
of all the unlikely casting choices for action hero—he’s pretty darned good—and was directed by
(“Hardcore Henry”) from a script by
who happens to have created the John Wick franchise and written three installments thus far, all of them notable for their elegantly stylized violence. No one can accuse “Nobody” of elegance, apart from
cinematography. This is punishment as entertainment, a short and sour saga of a pacifist turned vengeful brute in order to win back his self-respect. (The film is playing in theaters.)
The good news here is Mr. Odenkirk’s performance, not to mention his endurance in strenuous action sequences that must have taken a real-life toll on his physique; he certainly doesn’t look computer-generated. The body and soul of “Better Call Saul” was already famously versatile. Still, who could have guessed that the next stop on his artist’s journey would have him playing Hutch Mansell, a killing-and-maiming machine with a Dirty Harry scowl-and-growl in a movie where almost everyone spits out teeth if they’re still able to spit?
Hutch’s escapades don’t begin right away. He may be a nobody in the grand scheme of things, but he’s a quietly charming family man with a lovely wife, Becca (
absurdly wasted on an off-the-shelf housewife role), and a couple of kids—earnest Blake (
) and adorable Abby (Paisley Cadorath). His first personality shift comes after a home invasion that recalls “Straw Dogs,” except that Hutch, unlike
David, does not manage to cover himself in gory glory. Yet his failure of courage—at least that’s what those around him think it is—energizes him to go forth and inflict vigilante justice on bad guys in order to feel good about himself.
You needn’t know much more than that to decide whether to spend 92 minutes of your time on Earth watching the film, and you shouldn’t know much more if you’re going to open yourself to its grindhouse charms. Suffice it to say that mayhem begets mayhem, Hutch unwittingly incurs the wrath of Yulian, a Russian drug lord played with popping
and a new cycle of violence is provoked—not by thugs from a Russian crime syndicate invading a home and killing a cute puppy named Daisy, as in John Wick’s story, but by Russian thugs relieving poor Abby of her Kitty Cat bracelet.
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good,” goes the song from the Animals on the soundtrack. Maybe so. We’re given reason to believe that Hutch’s behavior during the first round of home invasions is less a matter of cowardice than a fear of reverting to who he was during a shadowy paramilitary past. Participants in that history pop up in the person of his father, David (a zestfully funny performance by
), who is not the nursing-home dodderer he seems to be; and in the voice of his mysterious brother, Harry, who is only heard on a radio link until he finally appears as a brother-in-arms played by the hip-hop artist and actor
And larger questions of identity are hinted at when Hutch, fully and lustily back in action, says to his wife, “Just like old times, huh?” and Becca responds, “I’m ready, Hutch.”
What is that all about? Who knows? The only thing certain is that, good intentions notwithstanding, Hutch is thrilled to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing once again. He and John Wick might both be hitmen, but the latter’s onscreen slaughters were always in the service of good, while Hutch’s appetite for inflicting—and sustaining—punishment is insatiable. As “Nobody” ground on, I thought not only of Wick, plus Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but of one of my favorite movies, “The Incredibles.” Hutch could be the dark side of
restless and robbed of purpose until he regains the superpower of rage, and makes the world uglier.
Write to Joe Morgenstern at [email protected]
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Appeared in the March 26, 2021, print edition as ‘‘Nobody’: New Blood for an Old Genre.’