Producers: Kelly McCormack, David Leitch, Braden Aftergood, Bob Odenkirk and Marc Provissiero Director: Ilya Naishuller Screenplay: Derek Kolstad Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon, Billy MacLellan, Araya Mengesha, Aleksandr Pal, Humberly González and Edsson Morales Distributor: Universal Pictures
Ilya Naishuller’s feature debut “Hardcore Henry” (2015) was as close to a first-person video game in movie form as one could imagine, and that’s not a compliment. At once easy to admire for its technical panache and to loathe for its mindless mayhem, it was the kind of cinematic exercise that would churn the stomach of anyone with a touch of human sensibility left.
So what can one expect of a collaboration between him and the writer of Keanu Reeves’s “John Wick” trilogy? Not surprisingly, another orgy of comic-book level violence. What’s surprising is that while essentially nothing more than a cartoonishly nasty graphic novel brought to life, “Nobody” is, like “Wick,” enjoyable if you can get past the basic absurdity.
The plot begins as a worm-turns genre piece about apparent milquetoast Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk). He’s introduced in a montage of quick-cut scenes interminably going through his daily routine, working as some sort of second-tier manager in the small business owned by his father-in-law Eddie (Michael Ironside), alongside his crudely macho brother-in-law Charlie (Billy MacLellan). Hutch wants to buy the place, but Eddie’s cagey about a price.
Hutch has a pleasant but totally mundane home life with wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and their children, teen Blake (Gage Munroe) and his young sister Abby (Paisley Cadorath) until one night, when their house is invaded by a couple of ski-masked petty thieves, Lupita and Luis Martin (Humberly González and Edsson Morales). Blake springs into action and tackles Luis, but Hutch, though armed with a gold club and—we’re shown-aware that her gun is unloaded, declines to act. They get away, and everyone treats him like a wimp.
But that proves far from the truth. When he finds that his daughter’s favorite bracelet was among the stolen items, he springs into action, tracking down the Martins through a tattoo. He takes pity on them when he finds they have a baby, but when the bus he’s riding home on is invaded by a bunch of thugs led by Teddy Kuznetsov (Aleksandr Pal), he politely ushers the driver off and takes them all on, proving that—unlike Charles Bronson in “Death Wish”—he doesn’t need a gun to, as he puts it, “f**k them up.”
Unfortunately, Teddy is the brother of Yulian Kuznetsov (Alexey Serebryakov), a flamboyant Russian gang lord who sends his entire crew out to exact his revenge. The rest will be a further collection of action set-pieces, culminating in one set at his father-in-law plant in which Hutch gets assistance from two equally able family members, his father David (Christopher Lloyd) and half-brother Harry (RZA).
How Hutch had gotten so adept with fists and guns is covered in the course of the picture, as are the abilities of his crusty old dad and silky-smooth brother. But explanations are really of no more significance than they were in the John Wick movies. You simply accept that these guys can handle a mass of heavily-armed bad-guys or not; if you are, you’re rewarded with a cheerfully ridiculous barrage of fights, car crashes, explosions and gun battles, and if not you’ll just shake your head derisively.
But even if you fall into the latter camp, you’ll have to admire the dexterity with which Naishuller and his behind-the-camera collaborators—cinematographer Pawl Pogorzelski, along with editors William Yeh and Evan Schiff—choreograph, shoot and cut the sequences for maximum effect. They do go on—that opening bus rampage and the climactic stand-off threaten never to end—but it’s impossible to deny the technical virtuosity involved, even if this sort of thing has become increasingly familiar.
The cast certainly makes it more palatable. Odenkirk plays on the nebbishy quality he’s made his own on television to make Hutch’s sudden transformation all the more amusingly unlikely, and handles the physical demands of the part (with assistance from stuntmen and visual effects artists, of course) better than one might expect. Lloyd uses his scenery-chewing shtick effectively, and RZA adds slickness to the equation. Of course a picture like this calls for a good villain, and Serebryakov fills the bill: Yulian is a preening, volatile creep who, when not collecting loot or executing those who displease him, enjoys performing on the stage of his nightclub to an adoring crowd (David Buckley’s workmanlike score makes way for pop songs in those moments). He’s a cartoonish figure, but the actor makes it work.
“Nobody” is thoroughly brainless of course, but if you’re willing to put that part of your body on hold for ninety minutes and just go with the nonsensical flow, you might have a good time.