At The Picture Show
Death comes to town
'Odd Thomas' is an otherworldly apocalyptic thriller ... but, y'know, for kids
Director: Stephen Sommers
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers, based on the novel by Dean Koontz
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Shuler Hensley, Nico Tortorella, Kyle McKeever and Patton Oswalt
Not rated / 1 hour, 37 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Odd Thomas is like a supernatural version of Veronica Mars, only without any of the attitude or wit. The two share a particular combination of young, amateur sleuths and a film-noir aesthetic superimposed onto a modern-day setting. But in the case of the former - this adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel of the same name - the noirish styling seems like an awkward, slapdash affectation.
In fact, for the first little while, I wasn't even aware there was anything especially affected about the writing (nor anything else about the movie, which visually resembles an NBC drama and thus makes a perfect fit for the OnDemand platform). But eventually its noir DNA comes to light as we see the titular Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) interact with his girlfriend, the strippery-named Stormy Llewelyn (Addison Timlin), and the local police chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe).
In scenes between any combination of those three, the dialogue conspicuously turns into old-fashioned, quick-witted banter - the cutesy kind between Odd and Stormy, the brass-tacks kind between Odd and Wyatt. The first problem is, the two leads don't really know how to finesse that kind of dialogue - Timlin tries and fails disastrously; Yelchin barely even tries. Worse yet, scenes between those three practically exist in their own world, divorced from the rest of the film, where everyone talks like normal people.
Maybe this is intentional. After all, the three of them tend to take up residence in something of a bubble. See, only Stormy and the Chief know about Odd's secret - that he can see and communicate with the dead. He uses this ability to help Wyatt solve crimes, and Stormy seems to tag along for the ride more often than not. Otherwise, Odd lives a deliberately unremarkable life, with an unremarkable apartment and an unremarkable job as a fry cook at a local café, in the unremarkable town of Pico Mundo.
Perhaps to offset their boredom, everyone in the movie is constantly talking about how odd Odd Thomas is. We'll get lines like, "That Odd Thomas sure is an odd fella!" He's an odd one. An odd duck. An oddball. An oddie (or Oddie). (Y'know - because his name is Odd!) The people around town - Stormy, Wyatt, the local cops, Odd's beautiful co-worker Viola (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) - won't stop commenting on how strange he is, as if they've only just become acquainted with him for the first time.
We get it, guys - he's odd. Like his name. It's understood.
Odd's clairvoyance doesn't begin and end with dead spirits - he also sees figures known as "bodachs," translucent, almost bat-like spirit figures that tend to hover when death is in the air. The more bodachs Odd sees hanging around, the bigger the warning. And so when he sees a new, suspicious-looking fellow waltz into town one day, surrounded by bodachs, he knows something serious is about to go down. Like "the whole town is in danger" serious. And so begins an investigation of the man they come to know as Fungus Bob (Shuler Hensley), who earned that nickname on account of the bleach-blond tufts of hair sitting on top of his otherwise unkempt head. ("It looks like a yellow yarmulke," Stormy explains.)
Despite some nicely designed effects from director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) and his team, the story itself devolves into pretty pedestrian territory. Once the mystery begins in earnest, it's intriguing enough, but gets less and less so with each layer that unravels. Its late revelations and twists are not only terribly unimaginative, but serve primarily to reinforce, without irony, paranoid small-town superstitions.
The lack of interest in the secrets of the narrative ultimately puts the onus on the character work to carry the film, which is an unfortunate spot for Yelchin and Timlin to be in. Admittedly, this has less to do with either performance and more to do with the way the movie as a whole chooses to portray Odd and Stormy.
The problem is, there's no conflict within these two characters. There's nothing underneath - no flaws, no contradictions, no grey areas - to make either one of them seem human. They exist only to solve a mystery, save some lives, and constantly re-emphasize their deep and abiding puppy love. It's a romance between twentysomethings who seem like adolescents, and a mystery being investigated by a junior gumshoe who seems motivated by a mechanical, rather than visceral, sense of altruism.
Given that Odd Thomas is a recurring character for Koontz, and the star of six novels so far, I can only hope there's more dimension to him - either in the books themselves (I've never read them, and in fact haven't picked up any Koontz since middle school), or in potential future movies (which, given the limited release of this long-delayed entry, I doubt are on the horizon anyway). Either way, this Odd Thomas is a supernatural thriller that's not nearly as grown-up as it wants to be.
Read more by Chris Bellamy