Written by: Stephen Sommers (screenplay), Dean Koontz (novel)
Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin, and Willem Dafoe
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďI might see dead people. But then, by God, I do something about it."
Stephen Sommers landed in my director jail several years back, and Van Helsing was nearly enough for me to throw away the key. But since Iím a nice guy, I just sort of held onto the key in hopes that Sommers would one day recapture some of that Deep Rising magic (although that movie looks increasingly like a fluke). Plus, rooting for a guy like Sommers, a seemingly well-intentioned guy with a lot of reverence for classic monsters, is agreeable enough (then again, Van Helsing could be evidence that he secretly hates them). Anyway, his latest offering, Odd Thomas, isnít exactly a jailbreak; instead, itís a perfectly acceptable effort that leaves the door cracked just enough, as Sommers embraces a refreshingly small-scale but tonally awkward lark.
Adapted from a Dean Koontz novel, the film follows the exploits of a guy whoís actually named Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) thanks to a mishap involving his birth certificate. Itís a prescient mistake, though, as he indeed grows up to be an oddball with the ability to see dead people. Because heís sort of a psychic Swiss-army knife, this sixth sense is but one of many talents. In addition to going Haley Joel-Osmont (and you can bet your ass thereís a reference to The Sixth Sense in the movie because no low-hanging fruit goes unplucked), Odd also has preternatural detective skills, reads minds, dreams about the future, peers into inter-dimensional demonic planes. Whatever the plot needs to keep moving, really.
The film introduces Oddís world and his abilities at such a breathless pace that you donít even realize when the actual narrative begins to pick up. Thereís a requisite prologue that has Odd busting a child murderer with the help of the local police force (headed by Willem Dafoe), with whom heís set up sort of a racket that entraps criminals who otherwise would have gone undetected (essentially, Odd is a one-man pre-crime force). Before long, Odd (via a persistent voiceover) is introducing viewers to his girlfriend (a suitably spunky Addison Timlin) and tailing another suspect thatís haunted by a pack of demons. Rightfully assuming that it means bad news, Odd plunges headlong into investigating this weirdo and uncovers a sinister plot that could lead to massive bloodshed.
Despite the hyperactive nature of the storyówhich briskly spirals from Odd stumbling upon a shack straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to his detection of a cult conspiracyóone can never quite shake the feeling that this is a decaffeinated version of John Dies at the End or a misguided attempt to ape Joss Whedon. Having not read the book, Iím not sure if this is due to Koontz or Sommers (who wrote the screenplay himself), but itís detectable throughout most of the film. Particularly obvious is the filmís glib tone towards the supernatural and its easygoing nature; I actually enjoyed how everyone Odd encounters just goes with and never questions his abilities (I was totally expecting Dafoe to be a thorny hardass, but heís actually quite warm and soft). At one point, his girlfriend chastises him by casually reminding him that heís been forbidden to explore possible hellgates, which sounds like a discarded bit from a Buffy script.
But hereís the problem: the dialogue isnít snappy enough, and the breezy, flippant approach proves problematic when the film crashes into some unexpectedly grim territory. Much of Odd Thomas is the stuff of high fantasy but crashes into heavy issues that could be culled from current headlines, like child murders and mall shootings. While Iím not particularly squeamish about confronting this in films, itís a bit odd when itís featured alongside a farting corpse. Tonally, Odd Thomas is a blast of buckshot that sprays overwrought sentiment (some parts feel more like Mitch Albom rather than purported horror master Koontz), silliness, and macabre violence throughout a plot that becomes increasingly dull and predictable thanks to some telegraphed turning points (the film eventually flashes back with reckless abandon, not unlike Saw).
Odd Thomas does find a nice anchor in its characters, though, particularly Odd and his girlfriend, Stormy. Their relationship borders on the stuff of twee indie movies: childhood sweethearts who are destined to be together according to a mechanical fortune teller, the two live off in their own charming little world, and it winds up being more adorable than insufferable. Yelchin and Timlin have a natural chemistry and effortlessly bounce their banter off of each other in a way that makes their bond quite believable. Call it a clichť, but I could probably watch these two even without all of the supernatural shenanigans. Truthfully, I didnít realize how much I had invested in these two until they were in actual peril, and it was at that point that it was clear that Sommers had done something right.
Still, getting a bead on Sommers is still difficult after Odd Thomas, who fails to wrangle down the tone to the very end. After a sucker punch of an ending, thereís a coda that makes the film feel like a superheroís origin story, only Iím not sure I have much interest in seeing more since this film feels self-contained enough, and the story loses many of its dynamic qualities as it rolls along. I imagine a sequel would be the sort of big, CGI-infested spectacle that Sommers is wont to produce, so Iím fine if this is all we ever see of Odd Thomas (especially since Sommers can't resist injecting it with some of that nonsense anyway). His translation is a workmanlike effort that at least captures the human dimension of Koontzís work, even if his horror and suspense chops are a bit weak and overly-reliant on telegraphed chair-jumpers and dodgy CGI creatures.
Of course, when it comes to scares, Odd Thomas doesnít aim to be much more than a watered-down spook-a-blast and works better as an amusing little character diversion anyway. If nothing else, itís a decent detour for Sommers after heís spent over a decade gorging on overwrought blockbusters; Odd Thomasís scope and scale is relatively small and often feels more like a TV pilot, so itís somewhat appropriate for the direct-to-video market. Image Entertainment has issued a barebones Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that at least features a nice presentation, with the DTS-MA track especially proving to be rumbly and rambunctious. I suppose Odd Thomas is Sommers's best work in years, if not a decade, but it's not the sort of triumph that'll get him out of my doghouse just yet. But, to be fair, anything short of erasing Van Helsing from existence might fail to do that. I might still be a little bitter. Rent it!
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