Skip to main content

Been communing with the dead?

Odd Thomas
(2013)

Writer-director and all-round auteur Stephen Sommers’ latest movie wasn’t greeted with the box office reception that he’s used to. It wasn’t greeted with critical acclaim either, although he ought to be familiar with that by now. Sommers is one of Hollywood’s most unbridled “talents”, unleashing attention deficit disorder puke of unmartialled images and edits onto cinema screens and then having the cheek to advertise the results as coherent movies. Odd Thomas is visually of a piece with this typical lack of restraint but, in contrast to the resto of his post-Mummy output, the big thing it has going for it is that Sommers didn’t originate the idea. It comes from a novel (since a series of novels) by Dean Koontz, and there are more than enough intriguing ideas and twists and turns during this 90-minute adaptation to make it the director’s best movie since Deep Rising. Which isn’t necessarily saying very much, given the quality of those intervening movies, and its not to say that Odd Thomas couldn’t have been a whole lot better in the hands of someone with a basic grasp of tone and pace, but it’s still fairly close to a recommendation.


Odd Thomas didn’t have an easy time of it getting to screen or being released. It completed production in 2011 on a modest budget of $27m (a sixth of his previous picture, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra), so I think it’s safe to say this was something of a passion project for Sommers. A lawsuit followed in respect of a prints and advertising budget that was never forthcoming, explaining its straight-to-DVD status (some very limited shows and film festival screenings aside). All of which is undeserved and unfortunate. It’s a decade since the unholy abomination that was Van Helsing, and the best one can say about Rise of the Cobra is that it didn’t stand out as terrible (or particularly memorable). It’s clear from Odd Thomas that Sommers is incapable of adjusting his style to fit the material, but there’s potential, should he stick to adaptations, for him to deliver something vaguely palatable on occasion.


Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), who is actually called Odd, announces himself via a voiceover in which he explains his special abilities; he’s a kind of psychic private detective and dispenser of justice (and a short order cook). As he says, “I may see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it”. His girlfriend Stormy (!) Llewellyn (Addison Timlin, a vision in tight shorts and prominent camel toe) and police chief pal Porter (Willem Dafoe; always nice to see Dafoe in a nice guy role) know of his gift, and the latter reluctantly covers up the loose ends caused by Odd doing his own thing.


Odd also sees bodaks, CGI-demon thingies that feed off carnage and bloodshed (but don’t cause it – although it seems they’ll kill anyone aware of their presence; go figure). A conflagration of them leads Odd to “Fungus Bob” (Shuler Hensley), a man who appears to have an obsession with serial killers, and Odd develops a growing conviction that a bloody massacre is soon to take place. There are twists and turns and fake-outs along the way to learning who exactly is up to what, many of which would be more effective if Sommers didn’t approach every shot with the same relentless enthusiasm. The supernatural mystery combined with arch humour and knowing narration initially recalls the superior John Dies at the End, but Sommers lacks the deftness to really play up the weird and accentuate the intrigue. Odd Thomas bowls along so breathlessly that inevitably the storytelling loses out along the way.


Nevertheless, this indiscriminateness occasionally leads to a successful wrong-footing that wouldn’t occur if one was forewarned by diligent direction; the number of occasions in which a character interacts with Odd only to be revealed as dead, for example. I didn’t get wise, even with the most crucial one. The constant barrage of crazy camerawork (never, ever, keep it still), the scene transitions with complementary sound effects; they’re sure signs of a director eager to utilise a box of tricks; there’s no doubt Sommers has a skillset, but he clearly lacks the confidence to sit back and apply it with measure and judiciousness. There’s also the CGI, which is as cheerfully slipshod as ever in his movies (which means that on this meagre budget it is comparatively more successful). A lurid mixed bag about sums up Sommers’ direction.


Yelchin is just old enough now that he doesn’t look as if he’s about to get ID’d, but he's always acted with a maturity beyond his years. Odd has a cocksure quality that could become annoying in a performer lacking a modicum of vulnerability, particular under Sommers’ merciless gaze, and fortunately Yelchin brings that, and an open likeability. Odd is breezily charming, and Yelchin has rapport with the deadpan Timlin and benign Dafoe. Patton Oswalt also shows up. He always does. While the movie is often funny, sometimes the dialogue is overly smart-arsed, which has the side effect of making the film look like it thinks its cleverer than it is (highly unusual for a Stephen Sommers movie!) Yet at other points Sommers manages to nail an appropriate off-kilter quality (the opening encounter with a murderer, and the line “Her blood is in your pocket”), even given the Day-Glo over-saturation of Mitchell Amundsen’s cinematography (he perpetrated the first two Transformers, if that’s any guide, but also the rather good Premium Rush).


Koontz seems quite happy with this adaptation, but then he’s generally had a rough ride with movie versions of his work. You probably have to go all the way back to Demon Seed to find something truly compelling. As Sommers movies go, Odd Thomas is as frenetic as ever, and the score and soundtrack respond in kind. While the results may induce motion sickness, he’s actually managed not to ruin a reasonably intriguing plot or completely overwhelm some decent performances (there’s even a nice little cameo from Arnold Vosloo as a one-armed apparition who carries his severed appendage about). It doesn’t look as if we will see any further big screen adventures for Odd, at least for the time being, which is rather a shame. It would certainly be a more productive use of Sommers’ time than yet another overblown, visually incontinent blockbuster.


***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for