Nobody

Nobody ★½

Even worse than a director visibly dumping his entire bag of tricks out onto the table is the sinking realization none of those tricks are very good. Ilya Naishuller’s embarrassingly incompetent yet even more inexcusably smug Nobody revels in its hyper-choreographed carnage and fatally corny one-liners as if the simple act of pulling off such effortful (but mostly weightless) action sequences and plainly facile plot machinations is deserving of our adoration. 

Sure, the prospect of watching Bob Odenkirk reach his breaking point and bring the pain is an undeniably appealing one, even as the marketing has made clear his casting is more or less incidental. We should just consider ourselves lucky they didn’t cast Bradley Whitford. Cluelessly piecing together its narrative out of a desire to ape Liam Neeson’s action-dad oeuvre and the John Wick franchise simultaneously, Nobody draws its all-American revenge fantasy and central casting gimmick from the former, less successfully straining for the balletic escalation and brutalized uber-cool of the latter. What it lacks is a compelling identity – hell, even a single compelling idea – of its own, outside of a contemptible, faux-nihilist indifference toward the maelstrom of hard-hitting violence that’s ostensibly its main selling point. 

As opposed to the honor-bound assassins of John Wick or the deeply haunted patriarchs Neeson so thoughtfully embodies, Nobody focuses on a protagonist whose suburban docility and success in deescalating an unexpected attack supposedly speaks to an inner crisis of masculinity, one demanding redress through extreme violence. Potentially cathartic to people not thinking about what they’re watching, it’s an alpha-male aggression fantasy about a typical, red-blooded American male picking up a gun and killing strangers because he felt emasculated at home. In 2021, I’m tired of the characters who get to act out this kind of murderous purge always looking like they actually do in real life. When the film commits him to a warpath in order to hit its body quota, staging a series of numbingly mediocre action tableaux, it’s astoundingly thoughtless about doing so on basic plot grounds, barely bothering to sketch in the particulars of things like its setting, characters, tone, and overarching narrative point. All its beats feel more cribbed than earned, as if the script was written via copy-paste.

It’s the kind of film where the supporting characters feel so lazily conceived and underdeveloped that their ultimate arrival in the finale means next to nothing, and the kind of movie that plays it out anyway without a drip of shame in its naked plasticity. Naishuller’s objective may have been to make a morally questionable action-thriller, one that challenges the viewer to root for the angriest schlub in the room, but it’s a miscalculation to make all of the repugnancy come from a character so thinly sketched he feels like a writer’s avatar. Then, it just feels, as is the case here, that unexamined, rewarded ugliness is the point. Nobody really is just that terrible, though. It’s the kind of first draft bad enough not to warrant a second.

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