As an author Dean Koontz has always operated in the shadow of Stephen King, and so have the movies adapted from his books. This one, based on his 2001 novel—the first in a series that’s now reached a seventh installment—about a psychic young man who uses his gifts to avenge wrongs and prevent crimes, was apparently designed by writer-director Stephen Sommers as the start of a potential franchise, but legal problems delayed its release and have probably doomed its chances to recoup what must have been a substantial budget, though not one of the size of earlier Sommers projects like “The Mummy,” “Van Helsing” or “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.”
The premise of “Odd Thomas” recalls the one King used in “The Dead Zone,” though here it’s told in the lighthearted style of “Men in Black” or “R.I.P.D.” The title character, played by Anton Yelchin, is a young guy employed as a short-order cook in a modestly-sized desert town called Pico Mundo. He just happens to be able to see dead people whose spirits often appeal to him (though wordlessly) for help in securing them justice. He also perceives gloppy creatures called bodachs, which are attracted by the promise of violence and carnage, and tries to prevent whatever unpleasantness their appearance might portend.
One morning, after apprehending a murderer in a chaotic scene that exasperates his friend Police Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), Odd witnesses great clusters of bodachs swarming around a strange newcomer to the local ice-cream shop whom he and his fast-talking girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin), a clerk at the place, quickly dub Fungus Bob (Shuler Hensley). The rest of the movie follows Odd’s efforts to figure out what coming catastrophe the bodachs are in town to feast upon, something that requires him to shadow Bob, draw connections between him and other characters, and take the steps necessary to prevent the villains from accomplishing their dastardly plot. He also must work to protect people that seem most directly threatened, as well as Stormy, who’s his helpmate every step of the way, often via the telephone earpiece she always wears.
“Odd Thomas” certainly moves quickly, propelled by fancy camerawork by Mitchell Amundsen, lots of overlapping, whiplash editing by David Chercel, a busy score by John Swihart, and especially a constant stream of jokey narration delivered by Yelchin, who offers wry explanations for his own backstory while patiently describing all the stages of his investigation, even though many of them lead nowhere. The script, following Koontz’s book pretty closely, features a wealth of twists and digressions, but ultimately it leads to a denouement that’s much less satisfying than it might have been, despite Sommers’ attempt to jazz it up with a high-speed truck chase that’s close to a carbon copy of the one just seen in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” He does stick with the macabre final turn of the novel, though.
The picture’s major strength, however, isn’t either Koontz’s narrative or Sommers’ direction, but Yelchin’s ingratiating performance. The actor actually makes Odd an agreeable figure amid all the mayhem and CGI effects. Stormy, on the other hand is frankly irritating, not because Timlin plays her badly but because her stream of chatter with Odd comes across, as it did in the book, as overly cute and artificial. Dafoe is on his best behavior here, which means he’s a mite dull, and the supporting cast is no more than adequate. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos by Patton Oswalt (in a role much diminished from the novel) and Arnold Vosloo add little; it may well be that much of their work ended up on the cutting-room floor.
“Odd Thomas” isn’t terrible, but it tries much too hard to be hip and sassy while telling a story that, to be honest, is far less fresh than it wants to be.