Odd Thomas is an adaptation of a successful novel by Dean Koontz. But the actual movie has a breezy, quippy tone and a small-scale storyline that remind me of nothing so much as a low-budget 80s adventure film. It's not a great movie, or even a particularly good movie, but it's fun and cute and doesn't outstay its welcome.
Most of all, it has just enough of the secret sauce that made movies fun in the 80s to let you forgive some extreme clunkiness and way-too-precious storytelling. Odd Thomas is in select theaters today, and it's been out on VOD/iTunes for a while.
Odd Thomas is actually written and directed by Stephen Sommers, better known as the guy who brought you the Mummy movies, Van Helsing and the first G.I. Joe. With this film, he's clearly trying to do something different than a giant special effects blow-out with larger-than-life action. He's working with a much smaller budget, but also he's trying primarily to make you fall in love with the character of Odd Thomas, with everything else in the film being secondary to that.
So why would you fall in love with Odd Thomas? Well, there's good news and bad news.
The good news is, Anton Yelchin, who plays Odd, is perfect — he's got just the right blend of "harrowed underdog," "scared puppy" and "lovable weirdo" to carry this character. Odd Thomas is basically a fry cook who sees (but doesn't hear) ghosts, and also gets prophetic dreams and sees extradimensional harbingers of bloodshed. He's an all-purpose psychic who helps people.
The bad news is, this movie often seems to be trying way too hard to make you love Odd Thomas, to the point where you get tired of being reminded how wonderful and quirky he is. In particular, his relationship with his ridiculously perky girlfriend Stormy probably played better on paper, but on screen it's ludicrously cutesy. Stormy has adorable nicknames for Odd, like "Odd One," or "Oddy," and the kind of adorable banter that is great in small doses but not so great in the kind of massive doses this movie wants to force-feed you. If you start a drinking game where you swig every time this movie tries to impress with you what a cute couple Odd and Stormy are, you'll be drunk half an hour in. Which, honestly, is probably the best way to watch this film.
People in this film are either cute and quirky or creepy and evil — and that's sort of the tone this film reaches for in general.
The actual plot of Odd Thomas is pretty simple — Odd can see the aforementioned interdimensional harbingers of bloodshed, called Bodaks. And after an introductory sequence where Odd helps the ghost of a murdered girl find justice, he starts seeing a lot of Bodaks, all around the small town where he lives. The Bodaks are gathering because some kind of terrible mass slaughter is going to happen, and Odd has to stop it.
As part of this movie's "trying too hard to win you over" ethos, it packs in a lot of voice-over, and explains the mythos in extreme detail. Long after you think the "introductory voiceover" part of the film is over, the voiceover comes back and explains stuff again. (One wonders if this was something that resulted from a test screening where a few people in the back row got lost halfway through.) There's probably an equation that explains the steep curve, where a few minutes of voiceover can make your film smarter, but after that every additional minute of voiceover makes it seem dumber and dumber. Certainly, after a while, a voiceover stops conveying information and starts conveying "We don't trust you to understand anything."
So before I get carried away complaining about this movie, let's get back to how it's kind of fun and entertaining. It's a small-town adventure in which the stakes are kept purposely low, and (until the somewhat dark ending) it's a feel-good movie about horrific creatures and terrible crimes — which is what reminds me of a low-budget 80s movie. Odd Thomas is a fun underdog, and he seems agreeably out of his depth most of the time as he tries to figure out what's going on in time to stop a major atrocity.
Also — spoiler alert — Odd Thomas is the rare example of a story where the hero is pretty much the only parnormal element. The people Odd Thomas is coping with are not at all supernatural, and neither are the problems he solves. It's interesting to see someone using mystical powers to cope with entirely non-mystical threats and problems — sort of like Asterix, in a way.
If anything, Odd Thomas is more of an unconventional detective story than a fantasy story — and a lot of the kinks in the story come from Odd's tricky but mostly cozy relationship with the police chief, played by Willem Dafoe. Because the Chief is one of the good guys in this story, he's kind of quirky and zany, but Dafoe keeps him somewhat grounded, and some of the most interesting bits in the story involve the cops finding sneaky ways to justify the evidence that Odd uncovers with his psychic powers.
The stuff I liked about Odd Thomas — its underdog hero, its low stakes, its feelgood horror — reminded me somewhat of the Fright Night remake that came out in 2011 and also starred Anton Yelchin. That said, if you haven't seen the Fright Night remake yet, you should definitely watch that instead of Odd Thomas, since it's a vastly more watchable film.
Odd Thomas remains sort of alternately breezy and creepy, right up until a dark ending that's affecting even though it's telegraphed from a long way off. The main thing I came away from this movie feeling was that Anton Yelchin really deserves to star in a hit movie franchise (aside from Star Trek, I mean) because he's so good at playing these sorts of characters. Oh, and Jon M. Chu ought to be required by law to make a sequel to every Stephen Sommers movie — if the director of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Legion of Extraordinary Dancers made a followup to this Odd Thomas film, I bet he'd drill a lot deeper into the hero's vast amounts of joyful anguish, that are barely touched on in a film that tries a bit too hard to be charming.