So, anybody can be an action star these days. Time was that you needed superhuman skills like Bruce Lee to avoid looking ridiculous in an action movie. Later on, you needed superhuman muscles like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. This past decade, though, a spate of movies and actors have dedicated themselves to the premise that reasonably fit performer + enough time with a combat trainer = action hero — Melissa McCarthy in Spy, Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street, Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and pretty much the entire casts of Sucker Punch and The World’s End. Bob Odenkirk put in a good two years with his trainer to prepare for Nobody, and if this movie isn’t in the same class as the others, he’s fit to join that company.
He plays Bob “Hutch” Mansell, who lives anonymously as a father of two and business manager for a tool-and-die shop. He’s surrounded by alpha-male dicks who constantly remind him of how much of a man he isn’t, and they kick into overdrive after two burglars break into his home and Hutch voluntarily lets them escape with their paltry loot. One night as he takes the late bus home from work, he finally snaps when he sees five drunken knife-wielding thugs harassing a woman. He pulls a gun on them, makes a show of removing the bullets, and quietly tells them, “I’m gonna fuck you up.”
Of course, that’s only a boss move if you then actually do it, and Hutch proceeds to do so in what is easily the movie’s best scene. Director Ilya Naishuller and fight choreographers Daniel Bernhardt and Kirk A. Jenkins make good use of the setting as Hutch inflicts damage on his enemies with the bus’ seats, railings, and pull cord. The scene is set to Steve Lawrence singing “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” because Naishuller (who previously directed the gimmicky Hardcore Henry) likes his old-school jazz. The edits show that the 58-year-old star of Mr. Show and Better Call Saul is indeed doing much of the stunts, and Odenkirk is not only credible throwing punches and dodging knife strikes, he’s similarly so when Hutch is punched in the back of the head, stabbed in the side, and thrown through the bus’ broken window. With great effort, he picks himself up off the sidewalk and steps back onto the vehicle to finish the job, and the fight ends with a great flourish as Hutch stomps on the last guy’s throat and then saves his life by taking his knife and delicately performing an emergency tracheotomy.
Unfortunately for Hutch and the film, that last guy is left with permanent brain damage, and his brother (Alexey Serebryakov) just happens to be a Russian mob kingpin who swears revenge. The scene where Hutch takes out a death squad in his house doesn’t rise to the heights of the aforementioned bus fight, and the climactic showdown at his booby-trapped workplace is a damp squib. Even though Hutch’s wife (Connie Nielsen) knows about his secret past as a government contract killer, the movie shunts her off to one side when the violence comes home, thus missing a big chance to comment on the havoc a double life like this can wreak on a family. Other characters like Hutch’s aged father (Christopher Lloyd) and ex-colleague (RZA) are poorly integrated into the story as well, and the less said about Naishuller’s heavy-footed attempts at humor, the better.
Screenwriter Derek Kolstad comes from the John Wick series. For all its flaws, I find Nobody to be more relatable than those films, probably because I myself am built more like Odenkirk than Keanu Reeves. (Judging from the hundreds of press screenings I’ve attended, I have this in common with a lot of film critics.) Odenkirk’s presence at the center of this action-thriller makes it into an intriguing novelty. It could have been more, though.
Starring Bob Odenkirk and Alexey Serebryakov. Directed by Ilya Naishuller. Written by Derek Kolstad. Rated R.