In Godfather 3, Al Pacino famously utters the line: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
If the lead character of Nobody were to utter a similar line, it might go something like this: “Just when I thought I was out, I pulled myself back in!” Not quite as compelling.
There’s lots to dislike about Nobody, a lame John Wick knockoff focusing on a suburban middle-aged dad who happens to be a trained assassin, but one of the worst things is how badly it botches its central premise.
Hutch (Bob Odenkirk) seems to be a regular guy living a quiet, boring life. The film establishes—rather skillfully, I admit—the fact that he has a thankless job at some sort of welding plant (turns out it’s owned by his father-in-law) and that his wife (Connie Nielsen), a real estate agent, is more successful than he is. Masculine fragility alert!
But you see, he’s not a regular guy at all. He was something called an “auditor,” for places like the FBI and the CIA—so named because he’s the last guy you want to see at your door. (Okay, sure.) But he’s put that life behind him. Permanently, or so he thought.
One night, he’s home with his family—he has a teenage son and a young daughter—and there’s a break-in. Hutch immediately establishes that the burglars, a man and a woman, are amateurs, and scared. He even notices that the gun the woman is wielding has no bullets. So, reasonably, and using his professional instincts, he backs off instead of attacking. When his son, Blake (Gage Munroe), tackles one of the burglars, Hutch tells the kid to let go. The burglar punches Blake in the face before scurrying away. The two interlopers managed to get Hutch’s watch and maybe a hundred bucks. And, other than the unfortunate black eye Blake has acquired, little damage has been done. Good job, Dad!
Except Hutch’s ego has been bruised. And all the men he encounters in the wake of the break-in—including the cop that shows up to take the report that night—say things like “I wish they had tried that at my house.” Hutch’s moody son gets moodier, and seems to now think that his dad is a giant wuss. Hutch’s next door neighbor shows off a new muscle car, somehow further emasculating Hutch. Everyone at work makes an underhanded crack about the break-in, including his wife’s obnoxious younger brother. But that’s about it.
I give the film credit for this: The burglars didn’t hurt or, God forbid, rape his wife. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a film where a man gets vengeance for his wife’s rape. (Yes, let’s make her rape all about his rage.) But you have to give Hutch more of a motive to abandon what is clearly years of living a peaceful life than: The guy next door got a muscle car and I feel bad that people think I’m weak. Seriously, how fragile is this guy? (Spoiler alert: A lot. A lot fragile.)
Because Hutch can’t take it. Even though it was his calculated opinion not to retaliate against the burglars, he can’t handle how small he suddenly feels. When his daughter’s Kitty Cat bracelet goes missing, presumably taken by the robbers, he snaps. He tracks down the robbers, who are a married couple, and attacks them in their home. He doesn’t kill them, but he gets his watch back, and scares the shit out of them. The Kitty Cat bracelet is nowhere to be found, I might add.
Then, as he’s taking the bus home, something preposterous happens. A rowdy group of gangsters just happens to crash into a pole next to the bus, totaling their car. They get out, banging on the bus door. Sitting in his seat, still high from the adrenaline of attacking that couple, Hutch silently prays that the bus driver will let them in. (Preposterously) she does. There are many things Hutch could’ve done in that moment: Gotten off the bus. Heroically ushered the young woman sitting across from him to safety. Screamed for the bus driver not to let these apparently deranged men on board. Instead, he waits—and gets exactly what he wants.
The men circle and taunt the scared female passenger. That’s when Hutch goes into trained assassin mode. It’s the scene we’ve all seen in the trailer and it’s well done, as such things go. One nice touch is when Hutch wraps the “next stop” cord around one of the gangster’s necks, banging his head against the window as “STOP REQUESTED” flashes off and on. Another touch: He creates a makeshift tracheal tube out of a straw for a guy he’s left half-dead on the floor. So yeah, basically, he kicks major ass. It’s the kind of scene that would play great in a crowded theater, particularly one filled with teenage boys. (Although one more peculiar botch: These guys don’t actually do anything to warrant the life-threatening beatdown they receive. They seem like they could be trouble, but Hutch never lets it escalate beyond intimidation. He’s just waits for the slightest opening and then pounces.)
Then, you guessed it, turns out one of the gangsters, the one with the straw tracheal tube, has a brother who is A Very Bad Man™, a sociopathic Russian gangster (Alexey Serebryakov) who can go toe-to-toe with someone like Hutch. Suddenly Hutch has put himself and everyone he loves, including his father (Christopher Lloyd), a retired FBI agent in a nursing home, in danger. And for what? For nothing! For absolutely nothing!
There was little chance I was going to like this paeon to toxic masculinity, but director Ilya Naishuller works my last nerve by including tons of “ironic” needle drops that are meant to be edgy but are actually massive cliches. Just two examples: “What a Wonderful World” plays as Hutch starts a fire and—you know it—walks away from it in slow motion. “To Dream the Impossible Dream” plays as he goes on a shooting rampage. Hi-larious!
I will give props to Bob Odenkirk as Hutch. He’s a great actor and he makes this rage-y everyman shtick work. (It makes you realize that he could’ve just as easily played Walter White as Saul on Breaking Bad.) It’s also cute to see Christopher Lloyd have so much fun with his geriatric badass character. But I found myself resenting the film more and more as it went on, especially at one point when his family is forced to cower in the basement as their house is invaded by killers. NONE OF THIS NEEDED TO HAPPEN. (Hutch even finds the damn Kitty Cat bracelet on the floor of his house. This would be like if the bad guys didn’t actually kill John Wick’s dog.) Hutch is a loser for letting his delicate ego put his family in danger. Or to put it in terms the film might understand: Real men don’t care so much what other people think about them.
Nobody is the Axe Body Spray of movies. It’s pseudo cool, it leaves a lingering bad odor, and just because it’ll find an appreciative audience of hormonal teenage boys doesn’t mean it’s actually any good.
Nobody opens in theaters this Friday, March 26.