Starring Bod Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Aleksei Serebryakov
Directed by Ilya Naishuller
And now, with perfect timing for bored families in pandemic quarantine, comes John Wick: The Family Version.
This flick is like a humanising spin on John Wick. As far, that is, as humans can spin around when they are shot, oh, maybe about 50 times. Sorry, I couldn't resist this joke in this entertaining nuthouse of a movie.
I’m not kidding about the significance of family ties here in this action thriller/revenge porn/death-wish fulfillment/overall big mad directed by Russian mayhem meister, Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry).
The shocked family members of the main SVD (Severely Violent Dude) — Hutch “Nobody” Mansell (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk) — have to tiptoe gingerly over the bodies of dead, heavily armed baddies after those poor saps stupidly invaded their home.
Mansell voluntarily labels himself a “nobody” because everybody, including his demoralised family, thinks he’s just a cowardly pushover and an absolutely gutless, well, nobody. Which is exactly how he wants it because he’s so reformed from his murderous past that his super mass-killer cape was probably already turned into a curtain.
Okay, how violent-cool is this Mansell-Nobody guy?
He props up those said lifeless bodies he’d nailed on his couch and narrates to them and us, of course, his personal life story about being an ex-secret assassin so poignantly, you may even shed a sentimental tear.
“I was an auditor for three-letter agencies,” he reveals. By “auditor”, he doesn’t mean he slays only numbers and by “three-letter agencies”, he doesn't mean HDB. Seriously, since when did respectable mainstream jobs like “auditor”, “accountant” or “social-distancing ambassador” become fancy code words for “badass psycho” from the CIA or whatever?
Apparently, our “wolf in sheep's clothing” changed his terminator ways to go suburban legit with his wife, Becca (Wonder Woman's Connie Nielsen), and two kids after a kill target whose life he’d spared became a happy born-again family man later.
It’s an epiphany which inspires and sets off Nobody’s own wild-to-mild makeover into Mr Below Average who’s so plain, pathetic and pitied upon by everyone from his son to his co-workers to his jerkass macho neighbour to his de-sexed missus who puts pillows between them in bed to ward off, you know, grind time with such a loser hubby. Just like me too. Which is amazing because I sleep alone.
Anyway, as a recurring gag to emphasise his mega-dud status, every time Mansell runs out, he always misses the garbage truck coming to pick up the trash. All of which, of course, builds up to a guilty-pleasure crescendo because, as with all Reluctant Revenger tales, everybody is just dying to see the Nobody make somebody die most deservedly right here.
Unfortunately for him but fortunately for us, his cover is blown one night when two amateur thieves break into his home to trigger a chain of events that requires actual chains to contain the crazy violent pandemonium which ensues. “I could have taken them, Dad,” his eager son says in abject disappointment after the “meek” father lets the intruders go.
Look, this Nobody has got to be concocted by somebody, right? In this case, it’s John Wick creator, Derek Kolstad, who also wrote this more comedic, less balletic Ode To Overkill and somehow felt it necessary to update his unstoppable people-whacker from big-star Keanu Reeves to also-ran Odenkirk. The latter, by the way, is also known as a comedian who once wrote skits for Saturday Night Live. Kinda like the way your jokey harmless postman may yet turn out to be a homicidal maniac.
The dude, reinvented quite convincingly, doesn’t go around cracking jokes or hamming it up like Kevin James as Paul Blart, the gungho mall cop. He’s more like a laconic, squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood suppressing his inner absurdist. But with more dry humour than a hair dryer stuck in a desert even when he himself gets thoroughly clobbered.
You'll laugh when he tells his missus — “Don't call 911” — because he doesn’t need the cops, or when he quips — “I hope these a**holes like hospital food” — after sending an entire population of baddies to the hospital by way of the morgue.
While aided by another wholesome family element here — his shotgun-loco, retired-FBI-agent dad, David (Christopher Lloyd), from the nursing home and his mysterious black half-brother, Harry (rapper RZA), a lethal sniper who keeps complaining about having to save his brother's white ass.
Hey, you must have heard of this slogan — WBLM? White Brother's Life Matters?
Or maybe you won’t even move a muscle on your face because, unlike me, you don’t find slo-mo explosions, impalements and ludicrous 10,000-bullet bloodbaths rendered to the tunes of uplifting evergreens like ‘What A Wonderful World’ and ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ to be particularly funny.
Basically, if you’re into the John Wick brand of ridiculous, relentless close-quarters violence porn with shot-head splatters as a trademark specialty, you'll love this Angry Dad version here. One useful tip — don’t take anything seriously. Let your brain go as mindless as the smashed skulls here. But if you’re not into Mr Wick, you’re better off watching an actual candle wick burn ever so slowly instead.
The humongous death toll — dump the calculator, you’ll need a taxi meter to tote up the number — arises out of an accidental confrontation. The way John Wick first went bats**t ballistic after a gang of nasties stole his car and killed his dog.
This time, our hero goes after those initial housebreakers thinking they may have stolen the missing bracelet of his cutesy daughter's cat — more parental humour here — but he melts into a forgiving softie once he sees the baby those folks have to feed.
On the way back home in a bus, he takes his rage out on a deserving gang of very mean bullies, one of whom is the brother of a fearsome Russian crime lord, Yulian Kuznetsov (Russian actor Aleksei Serebryakov), who loves singing boastful karaoke in his sleazy nightclub to show off his supreme power like Vladimir Putin on his day off.
I’ll say this. I’m risking my neck here making a Putin joke. And you don’t even squash cockroaches the way these punks get pummelled to a bloody pulp so badly that Nobody has to insert a straw into the Russian thug's neck to help him breathe.
Such kind courtesy should ideally be rewarded with a big payment instead of a big payback. The latter move being a dumb mistake which the enraged mobster older bro foolishly does when he brings hell and high vodka to Nobody right to the front door of his house and then the factory where he works and has laid deadly traps all over as though it's a storewide clearance sale where everything, literally, must go to action-movie Armageddon.
Thus distinguishing this pic from Keanu Reeves’ similar saga as its Home Alone version. It’s fascinating, I tell you, the amount of wholesome family references in this most unwholesome show.
At which point, I laughed even more because I actually expected Macaulay Culkin himself to show up and join the likeably sad-sacky Odenkirk in his quest to be a comically illogical action man.
Even Mr Home Alone isn’t insane enough to come with an entire tribe into this insanely fun insanity. (***)