ST. LOUIS — "Deep down, I always knew it was a façade, but it lasted a lot longer than I expected."
Towards the end of "Nobody," Nina Simone belts out, "Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." Ilya Naishuller's film is asking the same. In case you haven't heard, this movie looks a lot like "John Wick," but the comparisons begin and end at the concept (well, mostly).
Yes, the "Wick" writer-Derek Kolstad, who also wrote two episodes of "The Falcon and The Winter Soldier"-wrote this script and it has to do with a peace-seeking man carrying a particular set of skills (Bob Odenkirk), who got out of the killing business but finds himself pulled back into that world after a home invasion. But that's where the direct links to Keanu Reeves' trilogy end. This movie has a better soundtrack, flies by faster, and has a much bigger sense of humor. "Nobody" is just different, and rather brilliant in its own right.
Sure, there's the bone-crunching, bullet-pounding-into-flesh action ballet-but this hero looks and moves more like us. Let's be honest. Reeves looked like Achilles in a nice suit during that ruthless trilogy. Odenkirk resembles a Shop teacher with a really cool basement who can take a few punches.
He is the secret ingredient that takes Kolstad's latest modern western to another level, because his Hutch Mansell takes a beating as he dispenses with men who are worse than his "auditor." The nifty shades of gray into the plot only get better as the nonstop pace heats up as Hutch, a long dormant assassin recently awoken out of a robotic slumber, has to protect his family from newfound enemies, including the crazy, cocaine-snorting, singing and dancing Russian gangster (Aleksey Serebryakov).
It's a kick to see Odenkirk, whose mainly known as the slick yet resourceful lawyer Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill from Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul," perform the stunts and pull off the action hero humor with the ease of a gun-toting cinema veteran. He worked with expert stunt man, Daniel Bernhardt (who pops up here as a thug who gets some Hutch justice) for two years in order to get the movements right. It was blood, sweat, and tears well earned and worth the pain-because you never doubt Odenkirk for a second. In order to pull this kind of role off without doing it for a living (like Jason Statham), an actor has to go full tilt-and he does.
Simone and the likes of Bunny Sigler help "Nobody" rock on to its swift pace. Along with Naishuller's unique touches behind the camera, the knee-slapping tunes provide the film with some personality. A great action film has to be two things: Oblivious to reality and carrying just enough swagger to make you forget that guy just walked away from a six-flip car wreck. There's tongue-in-cheek humor behind every punch and nose bleed, keeping things light and mobile in its lean 91-minute run time.
Kudos to Christopher Lloyd's shotgun-toting golden oldie. I haven't seen the actor have this much fun since he taught Michael J. Fox about time travel. Playing Hutch's dad who knows a few tricks himself, he gets in on the action. At one point, you have Odenkirk, Lloyd, and The RZA standing shoulder to shoulder taking out bad guys and smiling like young kids. Where else can you find that at the cinema right now? Only with this particular "Nobody."
Sure, there are stakes and emotional moments, especially in scenes between Odenkirk and Connie Nielsen, who plays the very understanding wife of someone who may have "overcorrected" when he left the "business" and started a family. But "Nobody" never takes itself too seriously, preferring to revel in the outlandish various fights and stunts that make this film a welcome addition to the pantheon of great action flicks.
It doesn't waste a second of your time, jumpstarting the story by throwing us into Hutch's mundane everyday life, full of missed trash pickups and copious coffee consumption. Before you can take a bathroom break, Odenkirk is taking on five Russian criminals on a transit bus in one of the year's surefire great sequences. Naishuller's film has a one-track mind and it's all about entertainment. Kolstad's writing is a credit to the action hero genre. There's juice in this lean and mean steak.
Yes, I would like a sequel immediately.
Bottom Line: A movie made purely for action lovers who prefer a little personality with their aggression, "Nobody" thrives on dedicated movie star work from Odenkirk and a knack for making us laugh at carnage.