The strength of the very entertaining Nobody is how much it feels like a dinner table movie come to life. By “dinner table movie,” I am referring to the idea of multiple people in the industry gathering for some random reason and spitballing a seemingly great idea for a movie that somehow becomes a real thing. In this case, John Wick’s creators got together with the director of Hardcore Henry, and Bob Odenkirk, who maybe joked about Wick being cool and all but lacked a certain ordinary quality that could make for an equally compelling character. “What if John Wick was just a boring husband and father, living in the suburbs,” Odenkirk may have said. “Well, we’ll show you what that will be, but only if you star in it,” could have been the response. The results are wild.
Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a mild-mannered family man who is pushed into his desire to let out some violent rage following an incident involving two burglars in his home. Hutch’s work to track down these thieves escalates for unforeseen reasons, and he’s soon enough fending off the many henchmen of a Russian gangster, Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov). Fortunately, Hutch has a few more tricks up his sleeve than anyone may suspect of this nobody.
While handled stylishly enough to establish the mundane life Hutch lives, the plot really is just a means to see the unassuming Odenkirk start destroying people in fistfights and gunfights. The plot is absurd and could fall apart easily when looking back on it, but that’s really not an issue. Yes, there are explanations regarding Hutch’s background to a point (the film has many jokes, and one of the better ones features Hutch’s attempts to explain his past), but that sort of info will go nowhere special, no matter how much some trot out the old, “We didn’t learn enough about this character – therefore movie bad” complaint. Again, this is a movie that wants to put a certain kind of person into the battlefield.
Is it trying to say anything? Not really. This is as slight as it gets. Nobody is mean and lean, coming in at just over 90 minutes, with credits (and stick around for a mid-credits scene). Perhaps there’s something here about male rage, but the story and supporting characters are too thin to land much in the way of depth. And who needs it when you have fights as brutal as one involving Hutch vs. five opponents on a bus, with the close quarters and hard surfaces making for some brutal takedown sequences. Really, Nobody is perhaps delivering on a form of wish fulfillment for some, but the film has a knowing attitude about everything that’s going on.
Make no mistake, this is not a parody. The film is funny on occasion, but it’s certainly more of a sly sense of humor that courses through the DNA of this violent romp. We’re at a point where there’s a lot of affection for the days of 90s action movies coming through in today’s films. Films from that era began suggesting character actors and non-muscle-bound movie stars could be just as heroic and violent, which is what Nobody is certainly putting out there as well but only with a certain amount of self-awareness.
It’s a tricky path to walk when it comes to action films that need to have some level of stakes. This film never quite makes us feel like Hutch is in much danger, but he does take a beating. Not unlike John Wick (even with a bullet-proof suit, Keanu Reeves takes plenty of damage), Hutch is not invulnerable. However, if John Wick is Buster Keaton, Hutch is Harold Lloyd*. There’s a high level of technical efficiency to be found in all of these films, but Nobody isn’t deriving its fun and laughs from how stoic everyone is.
None of this means the action is less effective from a “cool” standpoint. The previously mentioned bus fight is brutal yet well-choreographed. A home invasion features many improvised choices of weaponry that go a long way in showing Odenkirk as more than just a fast-talking lawyer. Some creative choices lead to a smaller-scale car chase. And finally, the finale is the sort of absurdist blast of joy one would hope a film like this would build to. Adding further is the noted presence of a couple of key supporting actors, forming an unlikely team I would never expect to see in a major studio film.
Director Illya Naishuller and producers/writers David Leitch and Derek Kolstad must have had a ton of fun mapping out all of these ideas and stringing them together for such a wacky action movie concept. Odenkirk, whose career has run the gamut from sketch performer, comedic actor, film director, prestige dramatic actor, and now action star, certainly makes a case for what one can aspire to be, even at 55+ years of age. Fortunately, he’s more than cut out for this role in handling the tone of this film and convincing an audience that he could be this kind of action star and good for him.
What more is there to say as a recommendation for this film? There’s a version of Nobody that could have starred Lee Marvin back in the day or even an alternate universe where Nic Cage did this in the 90s instead of one of his action trifecta entries (The Rock, Face/Off, Con Air). Fortunately, however, Nobody exists in a time where we can not only poke fun at this sort of action movie concept but still see one deliver on the action as effectively as it should be handled. The stunts look great, the fights are creative, and the film in no way overstays its welcome. Not bad for a nobody.
*Despite the distinction made, I’m aware the posters for both Nobody and John Wick: Chapter 2 rely on an iconic Harold Lloyd image. That said, the way silent films also inform these action movies is something I find plenty intriguing, yet I stand by what I’m seeing as to which film silent star seems to be the closest approximation.