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 mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

From Here to Eternity (1953) (SPOILERS) Which is more famous, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf in From Here to Eternity or Airplane! spoofing the same? It’s an iconic scene – both of them – in a Best Picture Oscar winner – only one of them – stuffed to the rafters with iconic actors. But Academy acclaim is no guarantee of quality. Just ask A Beautiful Mind . From Here to Eternity is both frustrating and fascinating for what it can and cannot do per the restrictive codes of the 1950s, creaky at times but never less than compelling. There are many movies of its era that have aged better, but it still carries a charge for being as forthright as it can be. And then there’s the subtext leaking from its every pore.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.