An Average Joe action hero for Generation Die Hard
A bare-knuckled death-wish-fulfillment lark that sizzles until it sputters, Nobody is remarkably frisky but essentially frivolous blood-soaked fun. Nobody is really somebody, of course, namely Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), a mild-mannered accountant who works at his father-in-law’s manufacturing company. And when a couple of amateur house burglars invade his home, he plays pacifist and lets them get away. What a wimp, thinks his teen son Blake (Gage Munroe). What a shadow of himself, thinks his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen). The only one who doesn’t care is Sammy (Paisley Cadorath), a moony daughter too young to be so judgmental.
★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Ilya Naishuller
Written by: Derek Kolstand
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Britton, Christopher Lloyd
Running time: 92 min
But the emasculation gnaws at Hutch, and one night, on a bus ride full of menacing hoods, he finally snaps.Those old enough to remember Bernie Goetz will think this is some Average Joe pushed too far and venting vigilante justice. Except that crime isn’t running wild and the thugs didn’t even provoke him. This is different: this is the reawakening of a sleeping beast. Specifically, a retired covert assassin. “It escalated,” he explains crisply at one point. Sure did. One of the now-pummeled goons on the bus is actually the son of a psychopathic millionaire Russian mobster who wants revenge. The incident trip-wires a scorched-earth war between Hutch and the underworld, which means that paramilitary crooks must eventually face off against Hutch and his secret stash of heavy artillery. One guess who wins.
This mischievous adrenaline rush of a movie indulges the alluring macho mythos of the everyman with the secret past and lethal killer instincts. He’s the low-profile beta male who forgets to take out the trash—and also happens to have a black-ops background that makes even the NSA shudder. His reticence is a choice. Which gives succor to the film’s target audience of soft-bellied wannabe John McClanes. Call them Generation Die Hard. And the only thing they like more than a jacked-up superhero kicking ass is a sunken-chested skinny guy kicking ass.
Odenkirk’s star turn here feels like an audition reel to take over Liam Neeson’s mantle as the unassuming action star, the late-autumn badass who surprises everyone with his very particular set of skills. He plays it well, adding a dash of the conniving Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul but swapping the slippery smirk for stone-faced stoicism. It’s a career segue that works, especially since Odenkirk’s wry disaffection adds another layer of seen-it-all pathos.
The missed opportunity is his family, seen just enough at the beginning to think that Hutch’s stalled domestic life will revivify. “Remember who we used to be?” he says to a muted Becca. “I do.” Interesting, continue. “I guess I just want something that’s mine, you know?” he says to his affable father-in-law Eddie (Michael Ironside) after offering to buy the business. Promising, go on. This could be that classic mismatch of going-legit personal goals struggling against shady professional backsliding.
Oh, never mind. Once Hutch’s inner killer awakens, he shoos away his family to some undisclosed safe space and we never hear from them again. Then Christopher Lloyd and RZA take center stage as his respective father and brother to help him fend off the baddies during the film’s final showdown. Really? What a waste. You don’t hire Connie Nielsen, Wonder Woman’s Queen mother Hippolyta, to play a weak-smiling wife.
Also working overtime to add cloying dissonance are a slew of mid-century pop ballads slathering on ironic on-the-nose commentary. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” sings Nina Simone. “I Gotta Be Me,” croons Steve Lawrence. “What a Wonderful World,” croaks Louis Armstrong. They’re glib, they’re overdone, and they’re stale stylization.
The undeniably talented director Ilya Naishuller keeps the action spry in Nobody but doesn’t let us care about anyone or anything for too long. There’s a sense that he’s too invested in the technical aspects of the fight choreography and not as interested in any emotional underpinnings. His jaw-dropping debut Hardcore Henry, a delightfully silly first-person rampage, was at least more honest about its action-only mandate. But here there are hints of a larger story that Naishuller continually prunes away to keep the fists pumping and guns blazing. The stakes are low, the body count is high, and nobody really becomes anybody more than what they essentially were all along.