Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Odd Thomas": review

I had rounded up two afterlife-related movies: "What Dreams May Come" (reviewed here) and "Odd Thomas." It didn't occur to me, at the time, that the afterlife was the connecting theme: I had originally wanted to see "What Dreams May Come" because I'd been curious about it for years, and I had chosen "Odd Thomas" because poor Anton Yelchin—better known as Mr. Chekov in the recent Star Trek reboot—had just died in a freak accident, and he was the eponymous Odd Thomas.

"Odd Thomas" is about a twenty-something guy, born of a psychic mother, who has the ability to see the dead and the world of the dead. Among the beings he sees are spirit-creatures called bodachs (pronounced "boh-dacks") which, while not destructive in and of themselves, are attracted to impending mass death. "Odd Thomas" plays out as something of a mystery: Odd lives in a small town, working as a short-order cook and hanging out with his gorgeous girlfriend Stormy. A stranger suddenly arrives, trailing a sense of danger and a horde of bodachs with him. Odd realizes that this means a mass killing is going to occur in his town, and much of the story is devoted to his attempts to stop this disaster from happening.

Odd (whose name might be a bastardization of "Todd" resulting from a clerical error at the hospital where he was born) has help in the form of friends who know he has a gift and who trust his abilities. Among them is Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe), who counts on Odd's psychic hunches to help solve murder cases. As the plot unfolds, we discover that the mysterious stranger is only one of several people who appear to be in on a large plot. Will Odd be able to stop the plot in time? What will Odd's abilities mean for his relationship with Stormy?

Ultimately, I found the movie to be little more than cute. There's one major twist at the end, but as twists go, it's fairly easy to predict, and that, really, is the problem with the whole film: it follows a formula; its jump-scare moments are a cinch to anticipate; there's very little actual suspense to be had. "Odd Thomas" almost feels as though it could have been a TV movie: it was certainly filled with enough lame dialogue and visual clichés.

The tone of the film is mostly comic, and in some ways, it borders on "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," although the writing isn't nearly as witty. At the end, the tone changes to something much more somber, and I got the feeling that this was supposed to be the first of a series of Odd Thomas movies (Odd Thomas is a character created by horror novelist Dean Koontz). What I found unsettling, though, were the ways in which the film seems to hint forward in time at Anton Yelchin's death. In one scene, Odd is the victim of a poltergeist* attack in an empty house; he gets crushed against a wall by a refrigerator, much the way Anton Yelchin himself was found crushed between his SUV and his property's front gate. And if you think about what it means to be Odd Thomas—being able to see the dead means that one already has one foot in the grave—this too can be disturbing in hindsight.

Sad to say, but "Odd Thomas" is interesting mainly because Anton Yelchin recently passed away. As an artistic achievement, the film isn't the one I'd pick to remember Yelchin by. The story has its heart in the right place, but the plotting is too predictable, the dialogue is too stilted and writerly, and the overall effect isn't all that memorable. I'm going to be watching another Yelchin film—"Green Room"—very soon. It's gotten great reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes (and it also stars Patrick Stewart in yet another unconventional role), so I have high hopes that "Green Room" will prove to be a better viewing experience.

*The word poltergeist is being used here in the same way it was used in 1982's "Poltergeist," i.e., as a descriptor for a powerful ghost that can cause major disturbances in the physical plane. Traditionally, a poltergeist is just a minor spirit that can, at best, create small disturbances in the physical realm—enough to hint at its existence, and nothing more.

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