“Nobody” works in fits and starts, but it’s hard to argue with a movie so eager to please. Bob Odenkirk’s meta-machismo performance sits at the center of this hyper-stylized action ride like an extended cartoon punchline, much like Keanu Reeves has across three “John Wick” movies. And “Nobody” essentially functions as a loony expansion pack of that franchise, with a script by “John Wick” co-writer Derek Kolstad built around hard-knuckle showdowns and shoot-em-ups directed by Ilya Naishuller, in his first credit since the similarly high-octane lunacy of the first-person spectacle “Hardcore Henry.” This kind of ham-fisted, ass-kicking filmmaking wraps its bloody violence in air quotes for a breezy 86 minutes, and while it doesn’t exactly linger, there’s plenty of fun here in small doses.
As Hutch, the disgruntled suburbanite who resurrects his violent past to fight off hordes of Russian mobsters, Odenkirk becomes a ticking time bomb within the opening minutes. That’s where an amusing montage maps out his drab routine, as he takes out the trash and drives to his bland job as an auditor for his wife’s company, the days counted off through intertitles in rapid succession. When a couple of weak-willed robbers break into the family’s home at night, he has the chance to take out one of them as he wrestles with Hutch’s teen son (Gage Monroe). But the weak-willed Hutch resists, the crooks flee, and everyone — from police to co-workers — mocks the poor guy for not muscling up when the moment called for it.
So he does, of course, after discovering that the thieves took his young daughter’s precious kitty cat watch. Though the movie takes its time revealing the full extent of Hutch’s background, it’s obvious that he pulled back on his killer instincts long ago for a more settled family routine that has finally reached its breaking point. The story goes there with him right on cue, tossing in a serendipitous encounter between a newly fired-up Hutch and a couple of drunken hooligans on the neighborhood bus so his rage can do its thing. “I’m gonna fuck you up,” he tells the goons, as ironic music kicks in, and swift long-take camera maneuvers follow his bloodied fists to another kind of cathartic release, which conveniently sets up the plot to come.
As it turns out, one of the random baddies happens to be the younger brother of Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), a hard-partying Russian mobster who pays a hilarious visit to the hospital in search of clues for the person responsible. Soon, Yulian’s sending a horde of gun-wielding operatives to Hutch’s house, his family sneaks into a convenient shelter in the basement, and the one-man-army gag continues with explosive results.
There wouldn’t be much connectivity between these fast-paced showdowns if the disheveled Odenkirk’s world-weary presence didn’t sync up so well. Making a visible effort to avoid devolving into “Better Call John Wick,” the 58-year-old actor hovers in his own form of muted, Reeves-like understatement as a man wrestling to merge his dangerous instincts with genuine detective work to get to the bottom of the conundrum that put his family at risk. All the while, he could really use a therapist. In one of the movie’s best recurring bits, Hutch seems most at home sharing his somber origin story with people he’s recently incapacitated, only to discover they’ve died before his monologues are complete.
The rest of the ensemble mostly exists to fill in the gaps, though Christopher Lloyd renews his classic mad-science energy with a devious twist in a few scenes, as Hutch’s gunshot-wielding ex-FBI father, who ultimately joins forces with his son and a nonsense peer played by RZA for the cacophonous finale. It’s never less than obvious how much fun everyone is having with this style-over-substance exercise, which is infectious when it’s not just a routine. “Midsommar” and “Hereditary” cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski brings the same slick camera maneuvers that elevated those movies to dreamlike planes in service of pure entertainment. With the action staged almost exclusively at night and an eclectic soundtrack overlaid on its most delectable sequences — from Nat King Cole to Pat Benatar — “Nobody” plays like a neo-noir on speed.
The mechanics of various scenes vary in terms of ingenuity (the best of them involves a fire extinguisher in a speeding car) and in the context of other action-first narratives — “The Raid” movies come to mind — “Nobody” is pretty hit-or-miss, especially as it winds down to the bland finale. Its weak villain and the inevitable developments that surround him lack the kind of payoff that comes much earlier when Hutch first goes postal.
But “Nobody” uses its boundaries as an asset. This giddy approach to action in place of story has held appeal ever since Wiley E. Coyote chased the Road Runner off a cliff, and “Nobody” lingers in a ludicrous plane that works in bite-sized pieces. Like its “John Wick” predecessors, “Hutch” suggests its character might keep battling through more outrageous circumstances indefinitely. John and Hutch may as well exist in the same ridiculous universe of balletic brawls and stone-faced men. Whether or not these cinematic men breathe the same air, they certainly fight in harmony for the resilience of the action formula, and it’s a welcome pursuit even under forgettable circumstances.
Universal opens “Nobody” on March 26, 2021 only in theaters.
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