By Alyssa Aldrete
Bob Odenkirk has taken a beat down for the last 11 years.
After several stints in the sketch comedy world during the late ’80s and early ’90s, Odenkirk struck gold in 2009 with his Emmy-nominated character Saul Goodman, a shifty lawyer that often finds himself at the brunt end of violence, courtesy of his meth-manufacturing clients in AMC’s crime drama “Breaking Bad.”
Odenkirk ended many episodes of “Breaking Bad” and the long-running spinoff series “Better Call Saul” with bloody teeth and black eyes. But when the new action film “Nobody” opened with a shot of a bloody, beaten Odenkirk smoking a cigarette in handcuffs and being interrogated by two detectives, it included all the points of the cliché “how did we get here” scene, with the long-time comedian seemingly now the root of the violence around him.
I laughed it off immediately.
Odenkirk has become so synonymous with the cowardly, wisecracking Goodman character to me that I truly felt I could never buy him in an intimidating role. But as the film ensued, I realized that all Odenkirk needed to rebrand himself as the guy giving the beatdowns was to link up with screenwriter Erik Kolstad.
Kolstad, the writer/producer of “Nobody,” has begun building somewhat of a niche rebranding former funny guys as believable badasses. He is the brains behind the “John Wick” trilogy, which solidified Keanu Reeves (formerly most known for the “Bill and Ted” franchise) as a certified “guy you don’t want to mess with” action character.
Together, Kolstad and director Ilya Naishuller paint a quick picture of this “nobody” for the audience in the first 10 minutes of the film. After the initial interrogation scene, we are met with a “weeks earlier” screen, followed by a montage of Hutch Mansell’s (Odenkirk) mundane, repetitive routine: the light jogs of a middle-aged man trying to stay in shape, sitting mindlessly behind a computer at a nine to five office job, coming home to a detached wife complaining about his neglected honey-do list and the disinterested conversations with his two children.
When the family experiences an attempted robbery in the middle of the night, Hutch, raising a bat over the two mid-20s thieves, decides not to take a swing and lets the criminals get away unscathed. His lack of fight is met with disappointment from everyone, including his son, his neighbors and his boss, who also happens to be his father-in-law.
With an ego bruised even more than before, Hutch sits with a need to prove himself. After tracking down the robbers to retrieve a special stolen keepsake, he hitches a ride on the Metroline bus and witnesses a group of sleazy guys taunting a young woman riding alone.
In a matter of minutes, Hutch goes from kindly asking the bus driver and woman to vacate the bus, to single-handedly beating the five armed Russian men to a pulp.
Although there are a few cringy one-liners expected from a middle-aged dad before provoking the fight, Odenkirk delivers the action scene I think we all needed to see after a lack of production of these types of films due to the strains COVID-19 has put on the movie industry. It’s the type of scene that makes us moviegoers dodge our heads along with every punch thrown, all with huge grins on our faces.
Following the action-movie formula, these were obviously the wrong guys to piss off. An action-packed unraveling of Hutch’s previous life ensues as he fights the bigger battle against a handful of the Russian mob’s most ruthless criminals.
Let’s leave it at this: the perfect combination that is the reveal of a basement turned heavily-secured hidden bunker, Hutch’s wife Becca’s (Connie Nielsen) suspiciously pristine suture skills and the unlikely intertwining of Odenkirk, Christopher Lloyd, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and a warehouse full of automatic weapons is something I didn’t know I needed when walking into a movie theater for the first time in over a year.
It’s blatantly obvious that Naishuller (also the director of “Hardcore Henry”) is trying to stamp his cinematography style on all that he touches, (including many more slow-motion scenes put to awkward song choices than needed). But to be fair, in a film making Odenkirk an action hero for the first time, the irony almost seems necessary.
There’s nothing to laugh about in the intense “John Wick” universe. But if I didn’t end up chuckling more than a few times during this particular action film, I would have thought that Odenkirk failed at this endeavor. However, to no one’s surprise, he embodies this role to perfection.
Hutch Mansell is believable as both the routine-ridden, quirky dad and the sucker-punching, semi-automatic wielding ex-assassin — a feat I don’t believe would have been accomplished without any player involved in this film’s team.
It’s very fast-paced with a few dad jokes sprinkled in, but ultimately, “Nobody” gives action and comedy fans alike a refreshing and enjoyable first experience back into the cinematic world we’ve all missed.