If Edgar Wright had sex with an episode of Gilmore Girls and the happy couple gave birth to a child who was repeatedly dropped on its head during its formative years, that offspring just might grow up to become the new Stephen Sommers film, Odd Thomas.
Please, allow me to explain.
Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is a fry cook in the small Southwestern town of Pico Mundo, but while he likes to keep his life simple and free of clutter like motor vehicles, 401k accounts, and premarital sex, he actually has a fairly complicated secret. He sees dead people. That should be enough for any man, but on occasion Odd also sees fibrous phantoms he calls bodachs that appear in anticipation of pain, suffering, and bloodletting. He starts seeing swarms of them around town, and soon Odd’s investigating a stranger he fears may be planning a devastating attack on his friends and neighbors.
Odd’s talents extend elsewhere to include self-defense, some psychic abilities, and a built-in human GPS, but he keeps these gifts secret from everyone but his girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin), and the police chief, Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe). Porter appreciates the assists and protects Odd in exchange for the tips that help bring in the bad guys, and Stormy helps out with kind words, a can-do attitude, and a penchant for wearing short shorts and lacy underwear that rides high up her behind.
Full disclosure, I love the Dean Koontz novel that Sommers has adapted here, but rather than make me more critical and judgmental of the film it may have actually made me more forgiving. Maybe.
That said, sweet jesus is this a disappointment. The biggest problems rear their ugly heads early on and don’t let up until the final few minutes. The biggest offender is the dialogue. Between the incessant narration and the incredibly false-sounding exchanges between Odd and Stormy there’s barely an honest or quiet moment to be found. The two talk to each other with phrases and affectations that reek of sweat spilled through hours of crafting and shaping each and every word. It’s showing off and sounding false in the process.
Odd explains everything via voice-over, sometimes accompanying flashbacks to his childhood or simply to earlier in the film, and viewers are never allowed the opportunity to simply soak in a scene and connect the dots for themselves. When he’s not telling us details instead of allowing the film to show us, Odd has a tendency to slip into poetically-minded observations that feel out of place amid the casual action and character work. “Time feels like a powerful black wave that wishes to crash down and engulf us,” he intones at one point. “I must run faster.” Most, if not all of the dialogue is lifted straight from Koontz’s novel, but while the book moves forward beautifully and eloquently through its first-person narrative, Sommers fails to adapt the story fully to a visual medium.
Sommers keeps the energy high visually, but like the dialogue it feels artificial in its execution. Numerous speed-ups and slow-downs, distractingly hectic flashbacks (one with inexplicable filmstrip notches on the side), and the screen comes together or falls apart like a three-piece puzzle more than once. Unwise tonal shifts mar the film too with the worst offender being after a young woman is mauled by dogs and moments later we’re treated to a joke about the “world’s biggest joint” followed up with a fart gag.
So many problems, but the film still works well enough as a somewhat goofy and slight slice of fluff. It looks good, Sommers delivers some small but well-executed action sequences, and a handful of moments hit quite well including some chilling revelations and an emotionally satisfying bit at the end. Yelchin gives one of his more engaged performances, and while Dafoe doesn’t exert half the energy it’s still good seeing him have some fun. Timlin seems like a lovely young lady, but watching her constantly fighting and losing her battle against the dialogue is made less painful only by the salve of her fashion choices. I’d say it’s nice seeing Patton Oswalt, but his screen-time clocks in under a minute (as does Arnold Vosloo‘s mostly silent cameo).
Enjoyable B-movie fun is Sommers’ domain, and films like Deep Rising and The Mummy show that he can make big cheese work. Odd Thomas aims for a smaller, more intimate entertainment though, and the characters fail to connect the way he wants them to. Still, it’s a fast-moving adventure with some fun action scenes, impressive special effects, and a game lead performance. As an adaptation it feels closer to Koontz’s own sequels that lost the original’s heart and subsequently got stuck up their own asses. That’s unfortunate, but on the bright side we won’t have to worry about those books getting adapted any time soon.
The Upside: Action and effects are well done; keeps and mostly lands the book’s ending; Anton Yelchin makes an effort; Addison Timlin is cute
The Downside: Highlights the cheesier elements of Dean Koontz’s writing; editing flourishes are distracting; tonal issues; incessant narration; dialogue rarely feels authentic
On the Side: Lily Collins, Kat Dennings, Portia Doubleday, and Emma Roberts were all considered for the role of Stormy.