The Odd Thomas series of books has dominated horror/suspense author Dean R. Koontz’s output since he first introduced the character in 2003, and Koontz presumably saw film possibilities in his creation – no one today writes six books, one novella and three graphic novels about the same character without thinking “franchise.” Sadly, however, the movie version of the first book, simply titled Odd Thomas, pretty much ensures that no such reliable money-earner is on the horizon.
Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Into Darkness) plays the title character, a short-order cook in the small town of Pico Mundo who has an adoring girlfriend named Stormy (Addison Timlin) and an ability to see the dead as well as creatures named “bodachs” that cluster around those who are either going to die or somehow cause death to others. But rather than be frightened by what he sees, Odd (his actual first name – “Todd” was misprinted on his birth certificate) acts on it: in the opening scene the spirit of a dead girl leads Odd to a former schoolmate of his who killed her. He’s kind of an Equalizer for the dearly departed.
Odd also pals around with local police chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), who believes in the young man’s powers and collaborates with him to track down murderers. But even Porter’s belief is tested when Odd encounters a strange person he calls Fungus Bob (Shuler Hensley), whom Odd deduces is going to somehow be part of a cataclysmic turn of violent events in the small town. But Fungus Bob is not the only villain who has come to Pico Mundo to wreak havoc.
I haven’t read Koontz in a long, long time (I think Hideaway was the last one for me) but his work was always striking for its relatively clean, cinematic and fast-moving prose; a lot of his books seemed ready-made for the movies. Yet following 1977’s Demon Seed (a flawed film that nevertheless hides some visionary ideas in its computer-rape scenario), the last four decades have seen one listless adaptation after another limp onto either movie or TV screens. Do you remember watching and loving Watchers or Phantoms? Both were fun on the page but dreary slogs on the screen.
Odd Thomas fares slightly better, but it’s still a disappointment. For one thing, director/screenwriter Stephen Sommers (whose filmography includes gems like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Van Helsing) seems to love the material but has no idea how to present it. The film’s tone is all over the place, bouncing from a casual jokiness to a darker attempt at drama with little success. The film is also burdened with a ton of exposition, mostly delivered as voiceover by Yelchin, and it’s never a good sign when you have to spend so much time explaining so many different elements of your story instead of just showing them.
Even the few eerie moments that Sommers conjures up – as when Odd turns in a darkened alley and is confronted by a horde of spirits with no faces – devolve quickly into sensory assaults as Sommers never gives the characters or material a chance to breathe or generate some atmosphere. The director keeps everyone running, jumping and shooting guns all the time, and only adds to the visual overkill with the bodachs, which are interesting and creepy when first seen but overused to the point where the CG employed to visualize them actually seems to get cheaper and sloppier as the film progresses through its 96 minutes.
Yelchin does the best he can with the crazy-quilt tone and irritating stream of quips that Sommers forces on him, and even though Timlin is not much of an actress, the two of them somehow manage to concoct a sweet chemistry that is the film’s strongest asset and gives it a bit of an emotional punch at the end. Dafoe either whispers his lines or shouts them, but is still a comforting presence, while the rest of the cast and the rather anonymous bad guys are largely forgettable.
“Forgettable” is, in the end, the one word to describe Odd Thomas. The movie looks cheap and feels rickety, and while Yelchin and the character both show potential, there’s a feeling that we’ve been down these roads before in much better pictures. Odd Thomas may see dead people and even help them, but it’s his movie that’s most in need of a decent burial.