The ongoing John Wick-ification of cinema continues with Nobody, which extrapolates the base premise of the Wick franchise to its truest realization: a really, really normal guy who kicks the ass of everyone in his path. 2014’s original John Wick was about a seemingly regular guy being forcefully pulled back down into a seedy underworld controlled by a vaguely-defined globe-trotting syndicate, where he lived a former life as The Most Lethal Assassin in The World. He wasn’t really a normal guy, but a master killer who got poked and started killing masterfully again. After two direct sequels (with more on the way) and the woman-centered, espionage-laden Atomic Blonde functioning as a sequel-in-spirit, along comes Nobody as the latest entry in what could be considered the John Wick Cinematic Universe.
Admittedly, a quasi-interconnected franchise of white-knuckle, extended-take, stunt-forward action films is a welcome respite from the hyper-edited slam-bang of most common cinematic spectacles. Plus, in concept, it’s unquestionably cool to turn Bob Odenkirk into a kick-ass screen presence. Even for a guy who has quite impressively navigated his way from goofball comedian to reliable character actor to bonafide dramatic leading man, making the leap to action hero is an impressive blindside maneuver. Conjuring the mere image of Odenkirk plowing his way through a cadre of baddies is an exciting proposition on its own, and it’s ultimately just enough to make the film worth watching in its entirety.
Not that the film itself does much to assist Odenkirk’s wry commitment to his role as the titular “nobody,” a family man so mild-mannered he seems to lack the will to stand up to literally anyone, even a couple of low-rent burglars who break into his house as the film begins. The introduction of this character as an emasculated runt is, I suppose, somewhat baked into the arc of the screenplay (written by original John Wick scribe Derek Kolstad, natch), although the very blatant use of the Average Guy Must Find His Balls trope causes an eye roll as violent as the impending action sequences.
Character clichés notwithstanding, watching a “regular dude” transform into bad-guy killing machine is a fun right-turn from the standard bulked-and-sculpted action superhero path. But here’s the thing: this guy isn’t a regular dude. We come to find out that he’s a former “cleaner” for a government agency, a guy who eradicated the foreign and domestic foes who needed to be eradicated, but left “the life” and suppressed that part of himself to such an extent that he’s shrunk into…well, you know the title. So, ya know, it’s basically just John Wick Redux…or, more appropriately in this case, Better Call John Wick. It’s disappointing to cast someone as dynamic as Odenkirk, for a concept this promisingly quirky, and just re-use a screenplay template.
Of course, the lack of imagination at the screenplay level probably doesn’t matter much for a movie that is all about creativity at the action level, and in that regard, Nobody delivers as expected. Not to the degree of sustained adrenaline-pumping level as the Wick movies – gotta save the best for the franchise flagship, after all – but with a similarly inspired creativity in the stunt work and set pieces. Odenkirk largely plays it straight, which would be a necessary anchor if the film around him was more willing to let its freak flag fly, but its thematic attitude is pretty flat, often failing to capitalize on the oddball verve of the concept. But that concept nevertheless carries the film to the finish line, fueled by the commitment of its star and aided by just enough eccentric flourishes to separate the film from its forebears.