Dir: Ilya Naishuller. Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, Christopher Lloyd, RZA, Michael Ironside, Aleksey Serebryakov, Gage Munroe, Colin Salmon. 15 cert, 92 mins
Nobody is a kicky, flashy action thriller about a CIA black-ops veteran (Bob Odenkirk) who has settled down to an emasculating accountancy job. A random burglary reawakens his instincts for slaughter: on the night itself, this ‘nobody’ just stands there, a golf club dangling from his hands, while masked goons get the better of his family.
What would it take, the film wonders, for this mild-mannered alter ego to drop, and the real Hutch Mansell to step back into the fray? With a name that virile, it’s got to happen. The triggering moment comes the next day, when he notices that the thieves, while grabbing a mere fistful of petty cash, made off by mistake with his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet. Off he storms to retrieve it, and by total happenstance is embroiled in a bare-knuckle brawl on a night bus, when he intervenes to help a young woman being harassed by a gang of thugs.
It’s during this opulent sequence of carnage that the film sets out its stall. Hutch has a gun, but tips out the bullets to give his five adversaries a fighting chance. Noses are broken, switchblades grabbed and plunged into thighs. Hutch himself is thrown through a side window. There’s not much left of the bus by the time it’s all over.
One other signature ingredient is poured over the set piece like syrup. I’ve Gotta Be Me, by the mid-century crooner Steve Lawrence, kicks in midway while fists fly and bones crunch. What a Wonderful World, The Impossible Dream and You’ll Never Walk Alone, among a dozen other vials of treacle, are on standby, for any scene where director Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) wants to slow down the action and survey, say, Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s dad, pumping away with a shotgun while he toothlessly gurns at the mob henchmen he’s mowing down.
It’s clear that Naishuller adores the spectacle of action as ballet, along with his Sinatra-adjacent playlist, his own smirking sense of showmanship, and the shrugging ease with which he cues up a basic storyline (more a string of happenings) that’ll just about do. One of the bus mob winds up having a straw shoved into a slit in his throat, and gets out breathing but comatose; alas, his older brother (Aleksey Serebryakov) is a high-ranking Russian mafioso who will not let this outrage go unpunished.
When their house is stormed by assassins in body armour, Hutch’s wife (Connie Nielsen, who deserves better) and two kids are hastened into their basement panic room, and forgotten about for the whole third act. This is man’s work in a man’s world, after all: Hutch can but arm himself and saddle up with a pair of old allies (Lloyd and RZA, naturally). In the process, he becomes a red-blooded hero once again.
In 2021, this elementary take on masculinity begs to have the mick taken out of it, but underneath all the larded irony of the film’s stylings, it actually just sits there, sacrosanct. Either Naishuller doesn’t dare meddle with it or he doesn’t want to.
The factory-floor showdown may be strongly reminiscent of Denzel Washington getting even in The Equalizer, but the film otherwise recycles all of its genre trappings from Taken, John Wick and their sequels. Once or twice, the crooner needle-drops do raise a smile, and we’ve always given Scorsese a free pass for this sort of thing. 17 instances is maybe veering towards the absurd.
For all the emptiness of Nobody, it’s sleekly watchable, and will please most fans of everything mentioned above. It’s also something of a statement piece for Odenkirk, who was barely known as an actor until playing Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and its spin-off, Better Call Saul.
Expertly contained, all gruff sighs and affable fatigue, his performance is easily the best thing about the movie, suggesting an unlikely career in sexagenarian payback thrills which is right there if he wants it. If Stallone, now 74, could still get back to the grind for the horrid Rambo: Last Blood (2019), there’s plenty of time left for this 58-year-old to make a killing.
In cinemas tomorrow