While most of the time the big screen Dean Koontz adaptation Odd Thomas looks and sounds like it would be more at home on a TV network like The CW, that doesn’t mean it fails at what it’s trying to attempt. This long delayed dark comedy (due to unfortunate legal and financial problems) is actually filmmaker Stephen Sommers best film since The Mummy in 1999. Despite some obvious budgetary limitations and sometimes overly snappy writing that makes the material seem like a Buffy/Veronica Mars/Doctor Who hybrid, there’s no denying that the film isn’t at least having a good time trying to make the audience giggle and squirm. Those three shows I most readily compared Odd Thomas to are pretty decent, and there are far worse things it could be emulating.
Anton Yelchin stars as the titular Odd, a man who can see the dead and acts as a sort of private detective for those who met unfortunate and wrongful ends in his sleepy desert suburb of Pico Mundo. He’s appreciated and admired by a chummy local police chief (Willem Dafoe) who creates cover stories so Odd never has to explain why he’s able to pull convicted murderers out of thin air. He’s joined at his side by his loving and surprisingly accepting girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin), a love that Odd feels keen to keep pointing out will last forever. But one day while manning the grill at his daily cover gig of looking like an ambitionless short order cook, Odd notices a great deal of translucent demon monsters appearing – harbingers that death is near – and his investigation will uncover a potentially massive loss of life and the opening of a gateway to hell at the hands of a budding serial killer.
Or so it would appear. Anyone who has ever watched one of the TV series that Sommers is clearly trying to ape knows that things aren’t going to be exactly as they seem and that the real villain is often hiding in plain sight. Here, the actual mystery as to who might be unleashing this “apocalypse” on Pico Mundo isn’t surprising in the least. It’s one of those films where the second a certain character shows up, about 75% of the audience over the age of 12 will be able to stand up, point, and say “That’s the guy!” But thankfully for Sommers, the predictability and on the nose nature of his writing doesn’t dampen the good will that the material and the cast are bringing to the production.
While Yelchin sounds kind of uncomfortable reading the film’s lengthy patches of voiceover and exposition of how Odd works as an investigator, he seems to be having fun with showing just how normal of a guy his character can be. It’s not that Odd is a wallflower lacking in personality. He’s just a wise cracking hero that relishes his ability to help the world around him while still remaining an everyman. He has great chemistry with both Timlin and Dafoe, and the three feel like an established unit that audiences would have loved to spend more time with over the course of a TV show (not hard to believe since Odd returns in several Koontz titles). Timlin gets to play Stormy as a headstrong adventurer that would readily follow her beau into battle if she’s required. As for Dafoe, he’s probably the most obvious scene stealer, but it’s also great to see him play someone that’s not only a decent character, but just an all around nice guy. There’s a genuine ease that Dafoe has when playing someone who isn’t completely evil (or at the very least, really edgy) that people get to see very rarely when he’s on screen. It’s a nice change of pace for all involved.
There is some obvious compression that goes along with creating an origin story from a novel meant to sustain several further novels, and the film’s budgetary restraints start to be a hindrance in some of the more special effects heavy set pieces. But that actually forces Sommers – who already knows a whole bunch about FX heavy films, both good and bad – to get a little more creative. For all the bombast of the finale (which given the current American state of mind involving gun control and public places, might rub some the wrong way), the most impressive thing about it is an out of control truck with a guy hanging off the side. There are effects being used, but it’s just a pretty great, bare bones action scene. Sommers makes sure to pepper his film with these smaller moments of action instead of burning everyone out on constantly trying to be as loud as possible, something that marred pretty much every film he made as a director after The Mummy.
It’s a lot of fun while it lasts, and although it doesn’t quite nail the film’s final big twist as well as it could have, it’s a shame there probably won’t be another one of these films. Sommers has remained awfully quiet about the film over the past several years since production wrapped, probably just because of all the financial difficulties casting an unwanted shadow over everything. That’s a shame because not only was he onto something here, but he was onto something really good. If for some reason Odd Thomas should become a minor cult hit somewhere down the road, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to catching up with everyone again.