Certain action films become high-water marks for the genre and trendsetters for those that come after. Die Hard (1988) kicked off a spate of “Die Hard in a blank” movies featuring average heroes against insurmountable odds. The Matrix (1999) saw its bullet-time style and trenchcoat costuming copied more than once. John Wick (2014) and its “gun-fu” became descriptors for action films showcasing highly choreographed and kinetic combinations of gunplay and martial arts. Expect to see that last one name-dropped quite a bit when it comes to the new movie Nobody, as it not only features some familiar talents behind the camera but its approach to methodically crafted action will leave you cheering in your seat.
Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is an average guy with a repetitive life and a spark-less marriage, but when burglars break into his house, a part of him buried long ago is forced back to the surface. He chooses not to fight back, disappointing both his wife (Connie Nielsen) and children and leaving even the police baffled at his apparent cowardice. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated. Soon he’s tracking down the thieves and picking fights with Russian bullies on a city bus for the thrill of it, but things only escalate from there when a Russian mobster comes looking for revenge.
Nobody is arguably a one-note action movie. The plot is straight out of the basic genre handbook — a protagonist crosses paths with a villain and has to defeat him — and it never tries to be more than that, storywise. What it does have, though, is an abundance of kick-ass action scenes, a sense of humor, and a terrifically charismatic and atypical cast for the genre led by a memorable turn from funnyman Odenkirk. Call it John Wick lite since it lacks that film’s efforts toward world-building and character history, but it earns the moniker where it matters most, as this is one hell of an entertaining action movie.
Director Ilya Naishuller follows up his debut feature, Hardcore Henry (2015), with evidence that he’s capable of delivering more than just a busy tech demo. Action scenes are captured with attention to detail, clarity, and effect, and smaller, kinder sequences are allowed to breathe on the power of the actors themselves. Odenkirk is front and center in Nobody, but his interactions with others put a glint in his eye or a grimace on his face. Christopher Lloyd is a special delight as Hutch’s shotgun-toting father, RZA is his capable brother in hiding, and while it’s a minor role, Michael Ironside is a welcome sight as his father-in-law.
But it’s Odenkirk’s show, and the fifty-nine-year-old actor convinces as a man who’s been out of the game for a while but hasn’t forgotten any of his skills. Hutch gets more than a little roughed up, but he gives better than he gets, requiring Odenkirk to punch, kick, throw, and shoot his way through an army of bad guys. This isn’t a case of a funny performer being turned into an action star via editing and body doubles — Odenkirk put himself through the wringer with training that pays off in the execution. He keeps busy throughout Nobody‘s ninety-minute running time with action set-pieces on a bus, in the house, and all through a factory. Odenkirk is clearly relishing the experience, and he makes for a wonderfully unlikely ass-kicker. Hutch offers the mobster a deal at one point, but it’s clear from the look on his face to the crossed fingers on his hands that he’s hoping the man chooses violence instead, and Odenkirk sells both that desire for conflict and the chops to back it up.
Writer Derek Kolstad previously penned all three John Wick films, and he doesn’t stretch at all beyond that wheelhouse. The action stylings are the same, but they’re not alone, as the story Kolstad’s concocted here is a clear riff on the first in his popular trilogy as an ex-assassin is pulled back into the game. There’s some unwise and unnecessary narration early on, but the already slim exposition is tidily delivered in oft-comedic ways, including Hutch’s attempts to tell his backstory to the dying antagonists. As mentioned, there’s no real world-building here, no society of assassins or retro-punk operators calling in hits, but it’s easy enough to picture these worlds colliding.
Nobody is slick, quick, and highly entertaining. Its staying power won’t come from character depth or large-scale set-pieces, but its action beats should keep in heavy rotation with adrenaline junkies. From a brutal small-quarters brawl to a car chase scored to Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” this is an action movie crafted by action fans with style, love, and the slyest of winks.