Liam Neeson could never have imagined what he started. When Taken was released, it ushered in a new breed of older action hero. Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson and, of course, Keanu Reeves all followed in his footsteps. None of them were obviously actioner material, but they all took to it like the proverbial ducks – Keanu especially. But the next in line is perhaps the most surprising of the lot. Step forward the one and only Bob Odenkirk …..
We kid you not. He’s the worn out face – and less than muscular body – at the centre of Nobody, a piece of bloody revenge action that’s probably best described as a born to be mild version of John Wick. Apart from an apparently comfortable lifestyle, he has little going for him: he’s down on his luck with a distant marriage, a boring job, and the monotony is crushing. Even when burglars break into the house, he balks at fighting back, much to his wife and children’s shame. But when a group of young drunks intimidate a teenage girl on a bus, that all changes. He makes mincemeat of them – and it’s just the start ….
As the bodies pile up (you’ll lose count early on), the blood flows and the bullets are scattered far and wide, it soon becomes apparent that this guy is anything but a nobody. And that he isn’t simply a successor to Reeves’ Wick. This is the midlife crisis of American Beauty, laden with violence, weapons, seriously nasty villains – plus a surprising amount of humour and, even more implausibly, a certain charm that goes with its lead actor. Wrapped up in a brisk, no frills script and embellished by some striking images, it’s a lean, tight package that never outstays its welcome. But what makes it stand apart from others in the genre is its sense of irony, its complete awareness that what’s happening on the screen is simply absurd. Which is where Odenkirk’s penchant for the deadpan comes into its own – yet he has to fight off the skills of Christopher Lloyd as his elderly dad, whiling away his time in front of westerns on his care home TV, and coming dangerously close to stealing every single scene. A foretaste of the next breed of action hero, perhaps?
Not that this is a masterpiece of stylised action. There’s nothing especially innovative or mould-breaking about it and, despite the appeal of its unlikely hero, we’re still on familiar territory, occasionally struggling to work out exactly what’s going on. But director Ilya Naishuller has turned its limitations into something close to an advantage, doing nothing new but still doing it very skilfully. And it’s hard not to respect – like, even – a film that’s so self-aware and not averse to resorting to the occasional parody along the way.
Nobody knows exactly what it is – as do we – and has no aspirations to be anything else. But it’s still savvy enough to more than hint at the possibility of a sequel, if not a whole franchise. Stick around for the mid-credits scene and you’ll see what we mean. Although, on the evidence of this first outing, the last thing episode two is likely to be called is Nobodies ……
Thriller, Action | Cert: 15 | Cinemas | Universal Studios | 9 June 2021 | Dir. Ilya Naishuller | Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, Aleksey Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd.