NOBODY Does It Better (Than Most Modern Action Movies)

It is one of the rarest of occasions, the moment when a special kind of movie comes along – a movie that, until it actually existed, I never realized my life had been missing. Now that it was a reality, a crucial piece of the puzzle known as my soul has been restored to its rightful place and I am one step closer to achieving nirvana.

Nobody is such a movie.

As I write this, several hours have passed since my third session with the first therapist I’ve seen on a regular basis since 1997. I’m also still processing the recent passing of Philip Baker Hall, the legendary character actor who delivered fantastic performances on film (Secret Honor, Hard Eight) and television (Seinfeld) before dying at the age of 90 on June 12. Hall was a favorite of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast the screen veteran as aging professional gambler Sydney in his 1996 breakthrough feature Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney) and three years later as cancer-stricken game show host Jimmy Gator in Magnolia.

Between those two films, Hall made a memorable appearance as ambitious porn financier Floyd Gondolli in Anderson’s sprawling epic Boogie Nights. He had only scene, but it was one of the film’s definitive scenes. During a New Year’s Eve party at the home of adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), Gondolli has arrived to deliver a stark message to Horner about the industry’s future: film was dead, and videotape would soon be the way to go. It’s not the message an intelligent professional with lofty ideals such as Horner wants to hear, and at first he rejects it with barely concealed fury (successfully conveying the first two stages of grief in the process), but Gondolli coolly counters Horner’s skepticism with a masterful sales pitch that all but ensures the hardcore devotee of shooting hardcore on celluloid will soon see the light:

“I’m not a complicated man. I like cinema. In particular, I like to see people fucking on film. But I don’t want to win an Oscar and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass and lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me. That’s just something I enjoy.”

Now, you might ask, what does butter in the ass and people fucking on film have to do with a violent action vehicle driven by longtime alt-comedy icon and acclaimed icon Bob Odenkirk? Simple pleasures, ladies and germs. Much like Floyd Gondolli, the Professor Harold Hill of the XXX market, I myself am not a complicated man. Although I have yet to experience the sensation of a churned dairy product in close proximity to my rectum, I do like cinema. You might even say that I love it.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t watch a movie. Most of the movies I watch are enjoyable in some fashion; it’s rare when I see one that’s so lousy and boring, I treat it like Spartans treat newborn babies with visible birth defects. I’m one of the easiest people in the world to please. Action cinema is one of my longtime loves. The amount of cinematic epics loaded with bullets, bombs, and badasses in my physical media collection easily outnumber the other genres by 4-to-1. That’s being generous. That’s being me. I’m a sucker for a sweet, tasty slice of escapism, and Nobody hits the spot every time.

Bear with me now, because I’m about to write my least favorite part of any review – the synopsis. I only do it for the benefit of the skeptical reader, if anyone actually reads what I write.

When we first meet Odenkirk’s titular suburban schlub Hutch Mansell, he’s living a life that could not be more ordinary if his hobbies included tax form preparation. He works at a metal fabrication plant owned by his father-in-law Eddie (fuckin’ Michael Ironside) and lives in a lovely house in a quiet neighborhood with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen, who should have shot to stardom on the strength of her performances in The Devil’s Advocate and Gladiator, and the fact that she didn’t is an unforgivable offense), teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) and younger daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath).

Hutch is sleepwalking through life until the night when he gets the rudest of awakenings….

Okay, that was all bullshit, and I can do better. After all, I’m not writing the Nobody press kit here. Long story short, thugs break into the Mansell home, Hutch gets pissed because they stole Abby’s kitty cat bracelet, he kicks a bunch of ass on a city bus and kills the little brother of a powerful Russian gangster, and the next thing you know, all-out war with a steadily rising body count ensues.

As it turns out, Hutch used to be a covert government assassin known as an “auditor” who retired to live a normal life, and now he’ll need to summon his particular skill set once more to protect his loved ones and save his ass from Russian retribution.

That’s much better.

The brainchild of John Wick creator Derek Kolstad and Hardcore Henry (a kickass flick I should revisit sometime down the road) director Ilya Naishuller, Nobody takes a well-worn concept and finds surprising new ways to make it fresh again. It’s not a masterpiece of the genre, but it’s damn great entertainment that delivers action, drama, character, and humor with expert precision without once boring the viewer.

We’ve seen the story of a retired assassin forced to return to his old life for matters of the heart before, but not quite like Nobody presents it. Even after Saul Goodman came into his life, it was difficult to picture Odenkirk playing a man who could break bones and wield firearms with the confidence of a cool-headed professional athlete. The featurettes on the Blu-ray release of Nobody show the actor training harder than he ever thought possible to convincingly play Hutch. That hard work pays off in spectacular fashion when our humble everyman working stiff reveals his true colors in the now-classic bus fight scene.

Hutch Mansell isn’t invincible. He can’t get into brawls with guys half his age without earning at least a few bruises for his trouble. It’s refreshing, in this age of superheroes and muscle-bound dude bros knocking down entire armies of faceless henchmen without slipping in their own puddles of baby oil, to have a main character in an action movie take a little damage. Not even the mighty John Wick, who shares a little DNA with our man Hutch no doubt thanks to their mutual creator Kolstad, could make it through one of his franchise’s epic shootouts unscathed.

What Odenkirk brings to the role of Hutch is relatability. Many of us see ourselves in the regular guy known to his family and co-workers, and more than a few of us wish we could come out victorious after a 90-minute assault of violence capped off by a ripper of a car chase soundtracked by Pat Benatar’s 80’s rock classic “Heartbreaker” and a full-scale gun battle at Hutch’s place of employment where he gets some much-needed from his aging father (Christopher Lloyd) and brother/fellow government operative (RZA). The finale is a beautiful parade of mayhem that could go on for a solid hour and I would not complain one bit.

The perfect family.

Kolstad’s script provides the cast without just enough character meat for them to snack on, with Odenkirk and Aleksei Serebryakov getting the most scenery to chew. Serebryakov’s stressed Russkie mobster is often a demented delight, going from singing at his own nightclub to beating up hospitalized goons in a matter of minutes with the same level of energy. It’s always nice to see Michael Ironside, ever the pro as Hutch’s dad-in-law and watching Christopher Lloyd – Doc Brown himself – working a pump-action shotgun in the final bullet-fest is a visual that will linger in my memory forever. Kudos to Kolstad for making Nielsen’s underwritten wife role a little different than usual; when Becca finds out what her hubby has been up to at night as his unsuspecting family sleeps, her reaction might pleasantly surprise you.

The direction by Naishuller is not quite as flashy and chaotic as he displayed in Hardcore Henry, but a dialed-down approach best suits the material and he still brings plenty of energy to the action set-pieces of Nobody while keeping the focus on character and story, as slight as both may be. It’s always nice to be able to follow what’s going on in a fight scene or shootout since most modern action features tend to rely heavily on handheld cinematography and jagged editing that leaves the simplest physical conflict an incomprehensible mess.

Watching Nobody is like eating a meal you’ve enjoyed before but prepared with a few different ingredients. Even though the outcome is ultimately the same as before, you still feel fulfilled. I could watch this movie every week without tiring of it. That’s how good it is. Nobody won’t win any Oscars and it’s not going to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to. It’s one of the simple pleasures that make being a movie fan so much fun, like a glob of Country Crock lubricating the crevices of your anus.

“I’m gonna fuck you up.”

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