Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
The Premise: Odd Thomas can see dead people and the invisible dark forces that are working to release themselves on the world through the small town of Pico Mundo, California.
Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) has the ability to see the dead when they are not able to Ascend due to unfinished business on this Earthly plain. The dead cannot speak, but with a form of clairvoyance they can put pictures in Odd’s mind. Odd can also see Bodachs, invisible creatures that appear en masse when something bad is about to happen. One Summer day in Pico Mundo, Odd finds that an extraordinary amount of Bodachs have attached themselves to one particular person and with the help of his dotting girlfriend and the Chief of Police this band of heroes must stop a malevolent force from breaching the dark underworld and unleashing itself on the living.
Based on the first book in the Odd Thomas series written by Dean Koontz, we are introduced to Odd, whose parents cannot agree on how he mistakenly received his peculiar first name, and through voice over, Odd, explains how he got his ability to see the dead. Odd is also in love. His long-time girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin) is one of two people who know of Odd’s affliction, the other, Chief Porter, believes Odd implicitly and works hard to find ways to make Odd’s otherworldly assumptions work within the confines of civil law.
After 2011’s surprise joy Fright Night, Anton Yelchin once again proves that he can carry a movie. His portrayal of a man who, although he did not choose to have this responsibility, accepts that there is no choosing whether to help, there is only helping. His relationship with Stormy is a treat to witness; two people in love, who understand each other, and worry about each other. Their witty conversations over the phone when she calls him while he investigates otherwise dangerous situations are wonderful to hear. Their connection to each other, although fanciful in itself, grounds the film enough giving the bizarre which surrounds them weight.
The story won’t win any literary prizes but, that is not what this film is about. Take a cast of well-defined characters throw them in an unlikely situation and watch them spin. With the well-honed direction of Sommers (The Mummy, et al) our hero Odd works through the puzzles at a great clip, yet never feeling like the action is used to fill for time. A fun romp through a world that proves obvious Sommers enjoyed working in so much that it must have affected the cast where every character is bubbling with life and joie de vivre that not a moment feels forced.
Which is tough, since there is some spotty dialogue and exposition that treads so lightly along the line of camp that you can feel the corners of your mouth turning up as you are ever so close to balking at the audacity of some exchanges. Yet! Sommers’ expertly keeps this film from turning into another Mummy movie replete with silliness for silly’s sake, each character is their own defined being working within the confines of a fantastical world.
The fictional town of Pico Mundo, nay the world of Odd Thomas, is like Star’s Hollow in the TV series The Gilmore Girls: everyone knows each other, it’s full with small-town cheer and colour; almost a fairy tale dream. Take the Chief of Police played by Willem Dafoe, he tells us many times that he believes everything Odd says, even though Odd gets his information from a place most would deem crazy. Chief Porter, instead, says that every time Odd has come to him he has been dead on. This even comes to a point where, after a lengthy fight with a man who killed a young girl whose Dead self helped Odd find her killer, the Chief coaches Odd on how to tell his story for his statement so that the evidence won’t be thrown out of court.
A breath of fresh air for a genre where consistently the local law enforcement is at odds with the clairvoyant protagonists and in almost every other film of this type would have a scene where they throw them in jail… for “disturbing the peace”. Of course, it still felt off-putting to hear the arguably sane Chief of Police ask Odd if he saw the invisible Bodachs around town, or ask him if he had other visions. But it also leaves room for delightful ongoing bits where the Chief excitedly answer Odd’s phone calls in the middle of romantic interludes with his wife. In the town of Pico Mundo, anything is possible.
Before long you find yourself caring for the well-being of all the protagonists in Odd Thomas. Hoping that they all live through this coming Hell-on-Earth, but never truly knowing if they all will. For a movie smack dab in the centre of a well-mined genre it transcends the mere, boy-has-powers-boy-sees-dead-things, town-does-not-believe-him-so-he-must-work-alone, boy-saves-town-no-one-important-dies storyline with enough twists and human interactions that only the more callous audience member will not be wiping a tear or two in the end.
That being said, inside this monster movie is also a mystery. Not an integral mystery but one that is meant to keep you guessing throughout the film. In some cases it is so glaringly obvious that one might feel cheated but! much like the unforgettable twist the Bodachs play on Odd, we the audience are not completely given all the information. In the end, the apparent weak clues we pass smug judgement on will in fact be lauded for their work as red herrings.
Forever the Summer Movie that wasn’t.
Odd Thomas is a grand time. It sets out to make a fun summer film that unfortunately due to money problems is relegated to sporadic theatre screenings in winter and a straight to DVD/Blu-ray release in March. Here’s hoping that home video sales will reveal a fan base large enough that a studio brings it back for films depicting the rest of the book series. A delightful romp through a well-trodden genre, yet original enough to break out of the pack.
This reviewer found a film that not only his 13 year-old self would love but but also his hardened 40 year-old self enjoys as well. Open up a space on your shelf next to The Frighteners you have another delight on your hands.