Probably the best way to see Odd Thomas is the way I saw it. I went in cold, not knowing anything about the story or the cast or even about the highly regarded Dean Koontz novel that it’s based on. I wound up being happily surprised by a film I had no expectations about. You may have the same experience if you wander into it at AMC Grapevine Mills this week or run across it at home later on.
Anton Yelchin portrays Odd Thomas, for that is indeed our hero’s name. He’s a short-order fry cook at a diner in a small California desert town. We’re introduced to his unusual talent when a blonde girl (Ashley Sommers) appears to him and silently leads him to a creep in a convertible (Matthew Page). Odd promptly accuses the jerk of killing the girl and then chases down the murderer when he makes a run for it, Odd having had the foresight to remove the keys from the car. Only a small, tight circle of people know about Odd’s ability to sense unquiet spirits, including his supportive girlfriend (Addison Timlin) and the town’s police chief (Willem Dafoe), who agrees to take credit for catching the killers that Odd brings him. When the town suddenly becomes infested with demonic harbingers of death that only Odd can see, he must prevent the large-scale massacre that’s in the offing.
If you don’t know the story, you might look at that plot summary and think this is a dark supernatural thriller. Instead, writer-director Stephen Sommers keeps the tone determinedly light, with blasting sunshine lighting up the scenes, snappy rock music on the soundtrack, and plenty of wisecracks, most of them taken from Koontz’ novel. Sommers does tend to lose the book’s feel for the texture of small-town life, where everybody knows everybody’s business. He doesn’t do all that much with the idea that Odd’s talent has left him stuck in his hometown, either. Still, Sommers manages well with the comedy, and, more impressively, when the story takes a late painful turn. This isn’t on the level of the Evil Dead movies, but its grotesque humor puts it on a par with last year’s John Dies at the End. For a director who previously inflicted The Mummy, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra on us, this is easily his best work.
Yelchin’s casting helps immensely, too. His butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth delivery fits the character of a guy who’s doing everything not to stand out, and his wide eyes and often dazed expression fit with Odd’s knowledge of what goes bump in the night. As Odd tries to dispose of a corpse that has been planted in his apartment, he talks to it: “This time tomorrow, I’m either gonna be arrested and charged with your murder, or I’m gonna be rolling the biggest joint I’ve ever rolled in my whole life.” The corpse offers up no response, but don’t worry. That comes later.
Starring Anton Yelchin and Addison Timlin. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, based on Dean Koontz’ novel. Not rated.