Nobody (2021)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/23/21 08:56:15
“Nobody” is an action film assembled entirely out of elements that have been lifted whole from other such movies and stitched together into a sort of cinematic equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, sans the personality. Because it is centered around a performer who is normally not associated with such things and because it is clearly evident that we are not meant to take much of it too seriously, there is, I suppose, the temptation to give it a pass as 90 minutes of harmless brutality and sadism and I suspect that there will be plenty of people who are perfectly willing to do just that. Hell, I would have liked to do that myself—after several weeks of the festival beat, I could have used an outrageous and heedless goof about now—but the whole thing was just so contrived and devoid of anything of value, even by genre movie standards, that the whole thing left me feeling bored and annoyed when it was all over.Our hero, the nobody of the title, is Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), a profoundly ordinary schnook who works as an anonymous accountant at the manufacturing plant owned by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside) and brother-in-law (Billy MacLellan), both of whom treat him as a soft wimp. Things aren’t much better on the home front—wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) treats him with a combination of pity and disdain, teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) dispenses with the pity part and only moppet daughter Abby (Paisley Mansell) looks at him with unabashed adoration. These feelings come to a head one night when a couple of burglars break into his house one night and, despite having the drop on one at one point, does nothing, causing him to be further emasculated in the eyes not just his family but the police investigating the crime and his neighbors.
For a while, Hutch is willing to suck up another dose of humiliation but when it seems that the burglars made off with a bracelet of Abby’s, that finally pushes him over the edge and begins a series of events that eventually find him riding through the city on a bus that is eventually boarded by a group of drunken Russian thugs who begin harassing the other passengers. This leads to the film’s central set piece, in which he gets up, makes a point of unloading and dropping the gun he is carrying and proceeds to beat, choke and stab the Russians, killing one of them and sending the rest to the hospital. After that, of course, he returns home and Becca patches him up without looking too surprised about the damage that he himself sustained in the skirmish.
As you may have guessed by now, Hutch is no ordinary ordinary schnook. In fact, years ago, he was a high-paid and exceedingly brutal government assassin who decided to forgo the life for good in order to have a normal life with a wife and family. However, the skills and instincts he honed during that time have not atrophied at all—a good thing since it turns out that the guy he killed was the brother of Yubian (Aleksey Serebryakov), a fearsome and enormously wealthy Russian crime kingpin who now wants revenge himself. After fighting off a swarm of Yubian’s gangsters invading his home—hopefully impressing the wife and son in the process—Hutch goes on the warpath, leading to a cataclysmic finale in which the same place of employment that had emasculated him for years is pretty much blown to pieces as he stands his ground one last time.
At this point, the conceit of the seemingly meek and ordinary guy who gets to reassert his manhood by killing lots and lots of people has been done so many times over the years that anyone daring to explore it is pretty much required to bring something new to the proceedings—a certain attitude or irony, perhaps—in order to make it stand out. Considering that it was written by Derek Kolstad, whose screenplays for the “John Wick” films did just that quite brilliantly, and stars Odenkirk, who has demonstrated considerable dramatic and comedic chops over the years and who does suggest what a meek accountant with a crack killer hiding just beneath the surface might look like, I went into “Nobody” with a genuine hope that it would work. That hope was pretty much dashed before too long as it became evident that the screenplay was just going to be a rehash of stuff lifted from the likes of “Death Wish,” “Taken,” the “John Wick” series and any number of other films in which manliness are inextricably and unironically go hand in hand. This is exceptionally frustrating because there are some potentially interesting elements that are introduced—such as Hutch’s almost desperate need for someone to push him back into the killing mode that he foreswore for his existence as a non-entity—only to be discarded because to explore them, either as drama or as satire, would require more effort from the screenplay than Kolstad was evidently willing to give to it.
While discussing “Nobody” with a colleague after watching it, it was pointed out to me that if it had been directed by Luc Besson, the French action auteur whose work I tend to have a pronounced fondness for, I probably would have given it more than just a pass. To that, I have to admit that yes, there is a very good chance that this would be the case. However, I believe that would happen because Besson, more likely than not, would bring the sense of irony and attitude to the material that are clearly lacking here—I can easily picture him skewering the conceit of killing to restore ones manhood—and, if nothing else, he probably would have given the action beats the kind of cheerfully over-the-top yet oddly graceful style that he has employed in the past. By comparison, director Ilya Naishuller is little more than a lunkhead behind the camera and if “Nobody” is an improvement over his previous effort, “Hardcore Henry”—another load of bully-boy bullshit in which an ordinary guy kills tons of people in order to reassert himself, presented entirely in a first-person perspective to maximize the irritation factor—that says more about the shiftiness of that early film than it does about the intrinsic quality on display here. Other than the undeniably striking bus sequence, the action beats are as formulaic as can be and not even an admittedly choice Pat Benatar needle drop can make up for the lack of inventiveness.Beyond its utter hollowness, the most annoying thing about “Nobody” is the fact that it does have some good things in it that might have fared better with a stronger screenplay and better direction. The bus attack, as I have mentioned, is staged quite well and is the one time that the mix of action and humor genuinely works. There is a very effective supporting turn from the great Christopher Lloyd as Huck’s nursing home-bound father who turns out to have some surprises of his own when the wrong people come for him. Even the performance by Odenkirk is a good one that makes his character come across about as plausibly as it possibly could under the circumstances. If only the other aspects of the film has been handled as expertly as his performance, “Nobody” might have been the offbeat action-comedy blast that it clearly wants to be instead of the simply off jumble of familiar and ill-served ingredients that it is.
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