By Elias Savada.
Suburban, hum-drum life turns into a darkly orchestrated example of a revenge….”
As Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody takes its first steps, Hutch Mansell is one glum family man, stuck in a middle-age existence as an alternate-universe Walter Mitty, one with a dormant and well-hidden, action-powered past. But a few minutes later that suburban, hum-drum life turns into a darkly orchestrated example of a revenge-because-I’m-pissed stunt/action ride.
Featuring Bob Odenkirk, no less, one of television’s most staid character actors, and one who also dabbles as a comedy writer and co-created (with David Cross) Mr. Show with Bob and David, the hilarious sketch comedy show that ran for four seasons on HBO way back in the 1990s. He’s got a genteelness about him, even if he’s more famous these days for the crafty, understated lawyer he plays on AMC’s Better Call Saul. But, hey, if Liam Neeson can re-invent himself as a bad-ass action hero well into his fifties, why not Odenkirk?
Putting the fun back in fighting, from a purely comic book angle, Nobody starts with a house robbery in which the man/wimp of the house allows two nervous thieves to flee the scene instead of splattering at least one of them out into the front yard greenery with what looks like a 3 wood. To his wife and kids, he shanked it, but that intrusion spurs some solitary, extracurricular excursions to low-life areas in the unnamed city (locations were in Winnipeg), although the story’s twist toward violence is sparked by total coincidence. Fate spells bad luck for a drunken, rowdy quintet of Russian thugs who push their way onto his bus, making a lonely night run through the rainy city streets.
It’s time for a flavorless nobody to morph into a quite compelling somebody.
His calculated scenario for dealing with the riffraff is the first of several well-choreographed scenes to catch your attention. Between Naishuller’s spritely direction, Pawel Pogorzelski’s in-your-face cinematography, and the dynamic editing team of Evan Schiff and William Yeh – not to mention Derek Kolstad’s wild and crazy script – it’s time to settle in and buckle up. Kolstad created John Wick and his offspring, so you know where his head is at. The Russian-born Naishuller has only one previous feature as a director, but that was 2015’s Hardcore Henry, a heavenly salute to mayhem, pyrotechnics, stunts, and weaponry. Training wheels for his current affair.
After two years of training with fight coordinator/stuntperson/actor Daniel Bernhardt, who worked on all the John Wick films (and appears in this film as one of the bus goons), Ondenkirk’s preparation pays off with a role nobody will forget. As an introduction to Hutch’s nebbishy suburban family man, just paste in repetitive tropes of loneliness. He underwhelms by constantly missing the weekly garbage pick-up, while commuting on public transportation to a lowly machine works job run by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside). It’s Hutch’s wife, Rebecca (Connie Nielsen) who’s the real estate agent breadwinner for them and their two kids. It’s a hard knock life.
As a result of that bus foreplay, the real villain of this pulpy piece arrives in the form of brash, remorseless Russian mob boss Yulian Kuznetsov (Alexey Serebryakov, best known for his work as the Job-like presence in 2014’s Leviathan), whose younger brother is among those unruly bus passengers injured by Hutch. A boisterously exuberance devil, Yulian sports a short temper and curt manners that generally prove deadly. The darkly comic comeuppance Hutch offers up plays to the racketeer’s weakness.
Part of the routine for the bedraggled, scruffy Hutch includes visits to her father (Christopher Lloyd, showing off some kick-ass acting skills at age 82) in an assisted living facility. Like father, like son, and there’s a hidden past that begins to play out about a quarter into this briskly paced 92-minute film. RZA also shows up, as Hutch’s brother-in arms, in support of this family of Nobodies. MacGyver-esque skills also come in handy.
With a nod toward film noir – there’s an out-of-focus poster for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1953) in the family basement – Naishuller offers a darker side to fatherhood than the first few minutes of the film suggest. The fun races along, some edited in cadence with such classics as Pat Benatar’s Heartbreaker, I’ve Gotta Be Me by Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé, and Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What a Wonderful World. Andy Williams warbles The Impossible Dream when the very determined Hutch audaciously munches on steak at Yulian’s nightclub, after dealing with the gangster’s vast fortune. It’s a calculation that is right out of the mind of Saul Goodman.
With this film opening only in theaters in the United States, I expect a wild reception by fans of Taken, John Wick, True Lies, and other over-the-top benchmarks. For Nobody, it’s company well deserved.
P.S. Don’t leave early. There’s a kicker scene mid-way through the end credits.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).