Every few weeks I end up fighting a bout of insomnia, and the result is invariably the same: I load up Netflix and try to find something to watch that isn’t absolutely horrible. This weekend, the big winner was Odd Thomas.
The movie definitely wasn’t my first choice. In fact I would keep scrolling by it in search of something more interesting. The only reason I finally settled on it was because it has Anton Yelchin as the main character. Since I’m one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t seem to mind the ever-present lens flare in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, I immediately recognized Yelchin as the actor who played Ensign Chekov in both films; he was also one of the only high points in Terminator: Salvation as a young Kyle Reese (how that character ends up going from scrawny bean pole to full-fledged Solid Snake is another blog post altogether, though).
At any rate, Yelchin’s performance as the titular character is easily the best thing about the film. Based on a Dean Koontz novel (something I had no idea of when I originally watched it, as I’ve never actually read any Koontz) Odd Thomas follows the adventures of young twenty-something Odd, a short-order fry cook who lives a normal life in the fictional Californian desert town of Pico Mundo. The only thing that’s, well, odd about the guy is that he can see dead people – and he’s turned his ability into a hobby of amateur psychic detective work. There’s only a handful of people who know about Odd’s powers, one of them being the chief of police of Pico Mundo, played with subtle humor by Willem Dafoe, and Odd’s long-time girlfriend Stormy, the manager of a local coffee shop, played by Addison Timlin – most likely best known for her six-episode stint on Californication as Sasha Bingham.
The plot revolves around Odd trying to figure out why there’s so much psychic disturbance in town all of a sudden, eventually piecing together a vast conspiratorial plot to exact some serious murder and mayhem the next day. It’s a typical “race against time” mystery mixed liberally with some clever humor and more than a bit of supernatural dread, and unfortunately the movie as a whole fails about as much as it succeeds. The cast is fantastic, and Yelchin inhabits the role of Odd Thomas like a second skin, creating a likable and sympathetic character that you can’t help root for. Dafoe and Timlin are excellent additions as well, though the highlight for me was the cameo from smarter-than-most-of-his-audience Patton Oswalt. The movie suffers, however, from poor and uneven plotting and dialogue that ranges from simply trite to absolutely cringe-worthy. The film also seems to struggle with its overall tone especially near the end with a tragic yet poorly-telegraphed twist that left me rolling my eyes.
Eventually I found the problem. Upon researching the movie, I discovered that that Odd Thomas was produced, directed, and adapted from Koontz’ original novel by one man: Stephen Sommers. Even if you don’t know the name, you’re probably familiar with his work – he was responsible for the first two Mummy movies starring Brendan Frasier and was also involved in The Scorpion King as well. True, those movies weren’t exactly critically acclaimed, but they were all right; unfortunately Sommers didn’t stop there. He went on to write, produce and direct two absolute abortions of American cinema: Van Helsing and the abysmally awful G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra. After these particular revelations I wasn’t surprised in the least at how uneven Odd Thomas was.
In other words, unless you’re a Dean Koontz fan or you enjoy mostly lighthearted supernatural action adventure films, you’re probably not going to miss much if you give Odd Thomas a pass. Still, Yelchin’s performance is well worth the price of admission – especially when it’s just a couple hours of your time through Netflix. I wouldn’t go spending real money on it though.