What happens when two movies love each other very much?
Well, when the movie’s father is John Wick (with all of its carefully crafted backstory universe doled out through the story of a pet loving family man who wants to leave his past behind), and its mother is the tragically forgotten Clive Owen vehicle Shoot ‘Em Up (bringing its absurdist parody send-up of the action genre, full of Rube Goldberg style death traps and deadpan delivery of lines), they come together in a night of fevered passion and leave us with something that combines the best of both worlds.
In this case, it gives us Bob Odenkirk and and Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody, an absurdist parody send-up of the action genre about a pet loving family man who wants to leave his past behind.
It feels like I have been seeing trailers for this movie for months, but finally it has been released both in theaters and on VOD (I ordered it on Amazon Prime, for instance). It really was worth the wait.
Nobody is the story of a clock-punching father and husband, Hutch Mansell. We see the painful ordinariness of his day-to-day life to start the movie: he has a wife who barely likes him, a son who doesn’t respect him, in-laws who patronize him, and a vacant father in a nursing home. He does his best, but he’s going through the mid-life motions of a man who is stuck in a routine. I, too, have been late to take the garbage out sometimes, movie! I understand you.
One night, two robbers come to his house and steal a few bucks. Hutch has a chance to fight them off, but decides against it, even as his son gets the drop on one of them. He lets them leave with their ill-gotten goods. In the wake of this, he hears from everyone–the responding officer, his neighbor, and his brother-in-law–about what a failure he is for not better protecting his family. It’s not until Hutch’s daughter reports that the thieves must have made off with her kitty cat charm bracelet that something truly stirs within our protagonist.
We think we know where the movie is going here. Hutch tracks down the criminals to find they are two young parents to a sick infant. He leaves, boiling in the rage of a monster that has been awakened within him but is denied feeding. Defeated, he takes a bus home, and the movie leave the red herring family behind to try to make it through another day in the American health care system.
When the bus home gets boarded by a group of rowdy drunks, Hutch watches as they surround and intimidate a lone girl on board. Odenkirk brilliantly shows Hutch suppressing his joy at finding a chance to unleash himself, and we get the first wild action set of the movie as he saves the day.
But–plot twist!–one of the bus toughs is the little brother of Yulian, a high ranking Russian ne’er-do-well who is currently the caretaker of the Obshak–a Dark Knight-esque pile of money that serves as the retirement fund for the Russian mob. It’s interesting here that Hutch creates his own problem. It’s not the thieves who broke into his house that become the foe; it’s the relatives of a man he trashes on a bus when he needs to vent his pressure.
From there, the movie unravels exactly as you imagine it would: the bad guys push back, Hutch pushes BACK back, things escalate, and there are a lot of fight scenes and action set pieces. Hutch, it turns out, was previously the Baba Yaga–sorry, the Auditor, a shadowy, high level agent–of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and others. He’s the man others speak about in hushed whispers, but he is trying to leave that life behind. You see, years earlier, he spared a man his wrath; upon checking in on him later, Hutch sees him living a quiet life with a family and decides he wants that, too.
His wife and kids are sidelined as Hutch tears his way through Yulian’s underworld to ensure their safety, but his father–EIGHTY-TWO year old Christopher Lloyd!–is not, as he gets in on the fun in a masterful final showdown which also includes RZA as Harry’s friend who has been living in deep cover for the past few years.
There’s very little new here, I have to be honest. The movie shamelessly borrows not just from Wick or Shoot ‘Em Up, but other flicks like Deadpool and Taken. It’s not in the newness of this movie that it shines, but its execution and audacity.
First of all, Bob Odenkirk is inspired casting. If you had asked me to make a list of modern actors least likely to be the star of an action movie (action franchise? there’s no way they leave well enough alone here), he’d be there somewhere near the top. The guy is a comedian whose single most notable role is as the sniveling Saul Goodman / Jimmy McGill from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. And yet, you can’t deny that he works here. Obviously, Odenkirk’s resume shows a guy with fantastic chops, but playing so far against type still comes as a shock.
From there, I think the movie is SO DESPERATE for its viewers to make the obvious plot-related John Wick connections that its zanier moments take them unprepared… and seem even more fun than they are. In that, it works perfectly. It’s hard to tell from scene to scene whether the movie is going to have a dire moment of tension or a borderline silly attack of some sort.
It’s hard to tell, even after watching the movie, whether it more wants to be an standard fun action movie or a smart parody thereof. It feels like it’s embracing its tropes a bit more than the aforementioned Shoot ‘Em Up or, say, Hot Fuzz. Nobody is really walking this line so hard that when it’s over, you’re left wondering which side it was genuinely on.
But you know what? It’s ultimately not that important. The movie is fun either way. And the other flicks I’ve called out as I’ve discussed Nobody? I adore them all. Even if this movie is stealing their homework, it adds enough of its own flair that I didn’t even care. I was too busy laughing and marveling at the creative brutality.
Before we get to the final summary, let me remind you I am back in the podcast game, and our second episode ever JUST dropped! We review random comic book movies every week that my guests unknowingly pick from my list of 125. Come listen to us discuss The Wolverine!
Or if reading is more your thing, check out the most recent edition of Pop-Tart Quest where we talk… bacon?
All told, this was a blast. It got better and better as it went, and the final sequences are ridiculous in all the best ways. It will remind you of a half dozen other movies as it goes, but the comparisons are all favorable.