Lurking in the heat of all family men is this: A restlessness that gnaws at the thin veneer of civility they've hidden themselves in. That seems to be one of the lessons of the dopey film “Nobody.” It says that what all regular Joes really want to is to blow away multiple bad guys with a Walther PPK as music swells.
Bob Odenkirk makes a disastrous turn as an assassin-turned-nice-guy-turned-assassin-again in a role that's all macho wish-fulfillment fantasy. The movie suggests that the meek will not only inherit the Earth they will strafe, slice, bomb and hack their way to it, all for the adoration of their wives and once-sullen kids.
The body count is in the hundreds and so far past numbing that it's comical by the end of this pale cousin of the “John Wick” films, which isn’t a coincidence since they share the same producers and writer, Derek Kolstad.
The film begins as a flashback, with Odenkirk as a mild-mannered suburban dad stuck in a repetitive rut: going to work at a tool and die, taking out the garbage and commuting. He’s ignored by his teenage son and his wife puts a pillow between them in the bed at night like a buffer. He used to be a federal killer but has given up that life. Now his mojo’s gone. “Remember who we used to be? I do,” he tells his wife.
Then a home invasion stirs the pot. He looks like a chump for his inaction — “I was just trying to keep damage to a minimum,” he explains to the cops. But that sets him down a brutal path that results in hundreds of stunt men with bad Russian accents being mowed down. It turns out his mojo is murder.
“Who are you?” someone asks. “Nobody,” he responds in his best flinty Clint Eastwood. And yet, the impression is that the filmmakers want it to be everybody.
After avenging his family's honor, Odenkirk's sad sack husband encounters seven drunken thugs threatening a woman on his bus. He attacks them brutally and bloodily — twice. Before leaving, he gives one of the guys a tracheotomy with a fast-food drink straw. That guy turns out to be the younger brother of a powerful Russian mobster and sociopath.
“Sorry about the mess,” he tells the bus driver.
The powerful Russian sociopath wants revenge, naturally. One of his minions isn't impressed, saying Odenkirk “looks to be as vanilla as they come.” The Russian responds to beware a “wolf in sheep's clothing.” The subtext, we guess, is don't ever judge: Your neighbor with a beer belly and a comb-over who drives a beat-up Honda Civic might just be 007 laying low.
Faced with what seems like a few thousand armed goons, our hero must protect his family by going on the offensive. He enlists help from his own family — Christopher Lloyd plays his dad; the rapper RZA plays his adopted brother. They are handy with weapons and the dad, a retired FBI agent, says he even misses blowing guys away. That love never really goes away, does it?
For the big showdown, Odenkirk's now virile, manly man sets a series of deadly explosive traps like a grown-up Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone." When it’s all over, his wife will pull away the pillow and respect him. Wives often feel this way after their homes have been destroyed and one thug has had his face bashed in by a kettle onto a plate of fresh lasagna.
Director Ilya Naishuller simply adores massacres in slow-motion, with our hero strolling confidently as he murders scum to sweet, romantic music. We know this because he does it three separate times to Louis Armstrong's “What a Beautiful World,” Andy Williams' “The Impossible Dream” and Rodgers-Hammerstein's “You'll Never Walk Alone.” It's a tired trick and Naishuller has beaten it to a pulp, like most of the thugs here.
The deaths are not stylish or inspired, just brutal. The script is not particularly funny or insightful, just brutal. The characters have as much depth as a first-person “Call of Duty” video game. Even the scriptwriter seems apologetic: When the last baddie has been dispatched, Lloyd says: “Just a bit excessive. But glorious.”
You've likely seen this before if you've watched “Death Wish” or “Taken.” You've seen slow-motion bullets rip through gun-totting extras, twisting them in midair to make them look like jerky dancers. There's nothing new in this pointless, misguided mess. And violence as an aphrodisiac is not really what we wanted in 2021. Nobody comes out good in “Nobody.”
“Nobody,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for language and extreme violence. Running time: 91 minutes. Half a star out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits