Brevity may not be the soul of wit in "Nobody," but it is a good choice.
The action movie about a middle-age guy protecting his family from thugs isn't original — it could be called "Re-Taken," and Liam Neeson might sue if his "particular set of skills" didn't owe so much to Charles Bronson and others — but it's stylishly directed by Ilya Naishuller, wisely keeping the story simple so it clocks in at under 90 minutes.
Those minutes are so packed that it's probably best not to reveal what happens beyond the first couple of scenes, when Hutch (Bob Odenkirk) and his family wake up to intruders in their home. For the rest of the movie, Hutch finds himself in an escalating series of extremely violent encounters (think: amateur tracheotomy) with a variety of very bad men.
So spare it's practically a series of blood-spurting haikus, "Nobody" stints on the supporting characters; Connie Nielsen is so underused as Hutch's wife that I kept anticipating a reveal about her that never arrives. But Odenkirk is such an unusual casting choice — a comedy guy who has done drama on "Better Call Saul" but still seems like he'd be more comfortable at a celebrity roast — that almost everything he does in "Nobody" is surprising, including single-handedly throat-punching a busload of toughs. And screenwriter Derek Kolstad has created one super-compelling character: Hutch's taciturn dad, played by Christopher Lloyd.
There, too, are secrets it's best not to reveal, but it's not giving away anything to say that Lloyd is as delightful a contributor to this movie as he is in his best-known role as Doc in the "Back to the Future" films. His performance is nearly silent, but that voice is so instantly recognizable that every word Lloyd does say makes an impact.
Naishuller's first feature was the only-OK "Hardcore Henry," which also demonstrated his gift for energy and speed. The bus scene in "Nobody" is a great example because Naishuller capitalizes on a claustrophobically tight setting and the chaos of a dozen people locked in battle, but also makes sure it's not the muddled mess that most current action movies are. There's all of the comic-book mayhem of, say, a "Fast and Furious" movie but none of the wait-which-villain-is-that-and-wasn't-he-on-the-opposite-side-of-the-room-in-the-previous-shot? A lot of action directors shoot a bunch of stuff and figure they can shape the scene in the editing room, but Naishuller plans ahead because he knows what he wants before he starts filming.
All of that may seem like it doesn't matter, but "Nobody" proves it does. It's entertaining precisely because we always know what Hutch fights for, how he gains an advantage and what it costs him. The result is not art — it doesn't want to be — but it is fun and that, as "Nobody" knows, is not nothing.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language and bloody violence.
Theater: Wide release.