The obvious angle here is to do as “Nobody” wants: stop asking questions, settle in for a blistering 90 minutes of Bob Odenkirk badassery and think later — preferably reveling in the vindication of the middle-aged straight white male “nobody” class. But even after dialing down to a brain cell count raring to froth over the mindless violence served by director Ilya Naishuller, “Nobody” yearns for an identity.
Odenkirk lends his proven talents to Hutch Mansell, an overlooked family man with a wife Becca (Connie Neilson) who gives him the pillow-wall treatment in bed, an adolescent son he disappoints and a younger daughter who adores him. After an amateur robbery targeting his home reawakens his killing skills, Hutch haphazardly wages a lone-wolf war against the Russian mob and its lead villain Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov).
Happily, “Nobody” has places to go and intends to get to them quickly. Boom! go the big titles, quick cuts and loud snippets of sound: it’s Hutch’s banal existence. Here’s Becca saying “you forgot the trash again.” Is there even the slightest effort made to give her any character whatsoever?
Hold that thought while Hutch sticks a plastic straw in a slit in some drunk guy’s neck and listens to him breathe through it. That was a Russian mobster’s son and now the mob is onto him? Ok, now watch Hutch shove his family into the basement, be needlessly vague with his wife (apparently she likes it anyway), say a one-liner, then kill them all and burn the house down.
The film’s breakneck pace precludes much of the exhausting brain-yoga necessary for audiences to suspend enough disbelief to buy anything that happens. While “Nobody” is not the kind of action film that serves its thrills on a brioche bun of substance, those thrills are of the quality one expects from diner food: classic if not slightly boring, decent if not a little under-seasoned and quick if not suspiciously so.
The steady camera provides a welcome perspective to view the gritty, practically filmed fights. Hutch’s enemies, however, have more in common with computer-controlled antagonists in video games than with actual humans — they come in waves, can’t shoot and appear to be programmed to do nothing productive with their massive numbers advantage. And the incessant slow-motion shooting montages set to classic songs grate hard. Still, “Nobody” mostly delivers on its implicit goal of showing people die in passably interesting ways.
Despite this, it gets really hard at times to just sit down and shut up. The opening shot makes the film seem like a light-hearted or even funny adventure is to come; however, it soon grows unclear how seriously “Nobody” takes itself. It’s not funny. There are some, but not nearly enough moments of attempted comedy — let alone successful attempts — for “Nobody” to be a totally innocent and fun film.
Many more things about the film are decidedly not fun. No woman ever speaks to another woman (there are very few women to begin with, and none are real characters) and the only memorable “jokes” are the two instances where characters find it really surprising that there are Black Russians. “He’s just as Russian as we are,” Yulian says to appease his fellow white mobsters. “I’ve never seen a Black Russian before,” Hutch later says as the guy bleeds out. In the first instance alone perhaps the joke is on the mobsters; however, the callback rewrites that reading — a Russian being Black is simply not a punchline.
Naishuller has action credibility. His first feature, “Hardcore Henry,” put audiences in the driver’s seat for an ambitious if not totally successful first-person shooter turned film. Writer Derek Kolstad, too, has a brilliant resume, having written for each entry in the “John Wick” film series.
Thus the confusion: one could never argue that “Hardcore Henry” lacked identity — it is a film that went all-in on building an innovative, unique action experience that mapped its protagonist to the audience. To follow that effort with a bog-standard action flick about a “nobody” is some choice symmetry. If “Hardcore Henry” fell short for its ambition, “Nobody” does so for its lack thereof.