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Review: 'Odd Thomas' Starring Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe And Addison Timlin

Reviews
by Drew Taylor
February 28, 2014 4:00 PM
14 Comments
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It's strange how intermittently bestselling novelist Dean Koontz has been adapted, and how those adaptations—from the early Ben Affleck joint "Phantoms" to the Jeff Goldblum starring psychological thriller "Hideaway"—have been almost uniformly horrible. Koontz doesn't have the way with characters or the homespun prose of his contemporary Stephen King, but he sells almost as many books.  And most are written in a singularly straightforward, cinematic style that should make big screen adaptations easy and accessible (his late '90s techno-thriller "Dark Rivers of the Heart" was the best movie James Cameron never made). So calling "Odd Thomas" the best Dean Koontz adaptation yet feels like damning it with faint praise, but it's true. Too bad it's barely getting released. Koontz's string of bad luck continues.

"Odd Thomas" is based on the first in a series of books starring the titular character, a small-town fry cook whose abilities to see past our existence into the spirit world make him a kind of supernatural private eye, except nobody's really paying him (hence the gig as a fry cook). This movie version has made him younger and cuter and played by Anton Yelchin, of the J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" movies and the sorely undervalued horror remake "Fright Night." Thomas is an ordinary schlub with an extraordinary ability who is trying to do right by those around him. He's not spurred on by some greater sense of purpose or higher calling; he's just bored, and he wants to be a good person. (Or, to quote his gumshoe-y narration, "I see dead people… But then, by god, I actually do something about it.")

As "Odd Thomas" begins, the character starts to get the sensation that something huge and horrible is about to happen in his sleepy Southwestern town of Pico Mundo. There are more than the usual number of restless spirits haunting the town, and he is increasingly disturbed by the presence of bodachs—shimmery creatures that seemingly only appear around instances of death or large-scale destruction. Thomas tries to put the pieces together, utilizing the help of the local sheriff (Willem Dafoe, clearly having fun in a mostly thankless role) and his girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin, who is so adorable you can forgive her for saying stuff like "Loop me in, Odd One"), who helps him in his sleuthing and works at the local ice cream shop.

There are some perfunctory plot points that will be familiar to anyone who watches an hour long procedural this week (or any other), complete with red herrings, dead giveaways, and a climax in which the hero maybe missed something he should have spotted long ago (leading to even more trouble). The a-to-b-to-c investigating would have been a lot more boring if it was devoid of, well, its oddness. But the fact that there are ghosts and creepy monsters and serial killers tucked away in every corner of the sun-bleached town makes for a much more engaging adventure. Most of the time, the movie carries the same kind of low wattage charm that Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" brought almost twenty years ago. (Jesus). 

It's just hard to get completely engaged in the mystery aspect of the movie, which is supposed to drive the story forward. This is because the details of the mystery are purposefully fuzzy (Thomas is often guided by what he calls "psychic magnetism," a conceit that works much better on the page) and because that stuff is kind of boring. What's much more interesting is Odd's relationship with Stormy, which is lovingly detailed in a flashback (they've been sweethearts since they were very little) and lends the movie's ending a surprisingly heavy emotional wallop. Also more interesting: all of those crazy monsters and ghosts.

"Odd Thomas" wrapped production way back in 2011, sitting on the shelf for a while until it was revealed that the movie had become embroiled in a costly legal battle amongst the producers and is only now, very quietly, being released theatrically before being quickly dumped on home video. This is kind of of a shame, as it really is the best Koontz adaptation, by a fairly considerable margin, and because the movie's ending sets it up for further adventures of the character (something we wouldn't be opposed to at all). The novel was followed by four sequels and two graphic novels, while the movie will just have to stand alone.

Stephen Sommers, the underrated filmmaker behind big screen spectacles like the first two "Mummy" movies, wrote and directed "Odd Thomas," and it's easily his most unabashedly delightful movie since 1998's sea monster-on-a-cruise-ship romp "Deep Rising." Sommers, after his monster mash "Van Helsing" failed to translate into a graveyard smash, doesn't have the bells and whistles at his disposal that he used to, which has forced him to become a leaner, more inventive storyteller. The movie unfolds with whimsical tangents, flashing backwards in time or indulging in the complicated history of a particular ghost or ghoul, before zinging into the present and plugging back into the narrative's main thread. And while his budget for visual effects seems to have been greatly reduced (this was a director so accustomed to big budget excess that Industrial Light & Magic had a term for effects that were deliriously over-the-top: "Sommersized"), he still manages to conjure up some noteworthy nightmares, with the movie's inherent cheapness only occasionally revealing itself on any noticeable level. (Sommers feels more naked without regular composer Alan Silvestri than anything else.)

In a weird way "Odd Thomas" very much feels like the work of a filmmaker with something to prove. Sommers, as is his nature, wanted to prove a number of things—that you could make a successful Koontz adaptation (if not box office-wise, then at least in spirit), that he could work with a more modest budget, and that Hollywood was wrong for shutting him out after a couple of misfires ("G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra," which he also directed, was something of a bore but showcased the director's innate casting abilities and a couple of nifty set pieces). If judged by these parameters, the movie is something of a success. Sommers smartly adapted the material himself and filled it with actors who you have no probably watching wander through an occasionally pointless movie. It's the kind of thing that, if flipping through the cable channels one night and you happened upon, you probably wouldn't want to flip past. "Odd Thomas" is a much better film than it's non-release would suggest. Hopefully one day it'll find it's audience and people will appreciate it for something other than just being better than "Phantoms." [B]

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14 Comments

  • Mreagan | July 16, 2014 8:02 PMReply

    We happened upon this movie on netflix. It was amazing! I have never read the books, but was so impressed by this movie. It left me wanting more! I truly don't understand how this movie didn't become a blockbuster. I pray they make a second just to see what trouble he gets into in Vegas! Who do we talk to, to make this happen

  • marnie | June 12, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    "Gerda and I and two friends just saw the completed Odd Thomas film. It is so wonderful that I am whacked flat by happiness. It makes no missteps, races forward with unrelenting momentum, is gripping, and has great heart, and even has an excellent score! It is a totally fresh wind in the genres upon which it touches, and we felt that we were seeing one of those rare productions with the potential to dramatically alter how other filmmakers approach such movies in the future.

    Stephen Sommers, the director, said from day one that Anton Yelchin was his only choice to play Odd and that if Anton didn’t want to do it, the film would never be quite what it could have been. I’ll admit to being skeptical. But once you see Anton in this, you know you have seen the best of all possible Odds. He is soooo good! This young man is a remarkable talent, and he brings great heart to the role. He handles the action scenes with tremendous energy and conviction, but he really, really shines when it comes to selling the love story, the emotion, as well as Odd’s humility and sweet nature.

    The four of us were also in agreement that Addison Timlin is Stormy Llewellyn. She is no less powerful than Anton, giving a nuanced and utterly charming performance. Every guy in the audience will be in love with her, and I expect every woman will want her as best friend forever. She and Anton have such chemistry that this film is a thriller that is also a beautiful love story; that love story, combined with the action and scares, makes this a date movie for the ages. The audience–men, women, young, old—were laughing when they should have been, jumping when they should have been, and in tears when they should have been.

    Steve has taken chances in the way he has crossed genres, in the density of story detail highly unusual in movies of this nature, and in the visual sophistication with which this has been edited. The movie comes at you with all kinds of transitions that you have not seen before, and if you’re interested in directorial technique, it’s worth studying.

    Faithful to the book? Yes, in every way that matters. Odd is Odd. Stormy is Stormy. The themes are rigorously adhered to. Is much missing? Yes. Ozzie has one scene, and he has become a sculptor instead of a mystery writer. Odd’s backstory–mom and dad–has been condensed to one scene because test audiences found the backstory too dark. Odd has been given a new power: He sometimes touches someone/something and has startling visions of how some real event went down earlier, as a means of conveying facts without talking-head scenes, but it really, really works.

    Based on past experiences, I wasn’t sure anyone could ever adapt a Koontz book as a feature film and capture the flavor and essentials of it. Steve Sommers has done it with great panache. It should hit theaters sometime this winter. There’s probably a law against being as happy as I am right now." -Dean Koontz says a lot when the writer of the book is as pleased as punch with it. Fingers crossed for a sequel! :-)

  • marnie | June 12, 2014 5:01 PMReply

    Love love loved this Movie, the writing was wonderful and surprising, Anton Yelchin really showed his acting chops in this, and Willem Defoe was a delightful as always. This was a nice piece of film work which I will happily purchase on dvd(bluray preferably) and now I much read the books! Best Dean Koontz Film I have seen brought to life, they need to put the same magic to a Stephen King film.

  • allie | May 30, 2014 7:45 PMReply

    never read any books, watched the movie on pay preview before theatre release and have watched it over and over again. I liked it so much that I order the series of Odd Thomas online. I hope for a sequel but after reading a few reviews, I guess there won't be one. Too bad...

  • Stoobz | May 22, 2014 4:04 PMReply

    I was shocked when I saw this movie while browsing through NetFlix. I'm a big fan of the series and never heard any news of a movie adaptation. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the book come to life. ( And I now have a huge crush on Addison Timlin - adorable! )

  • Alancero | May 12, 2014 1:43 AMReply

    Movie was enjoyable. Hope a sequel comes out.

  • Lyfa Lee Zhure | April 16, 2014 5:21 AMReply

    Not a Koontz reader. I actually stumbled upon this "Odd" DVD at Walmart--just bein' bored. Having low expectations, I was actually quite surprised that this was a straight-to-vid release. The VFX were out of this world, the casting and delivery were quite superb--considering the genre, and the story keeps you interested from start to finish. Having elements of "Stir of Echoes", "Frighteners", and "Constantine" made this hidden gem a keeper.

  • Michelle | April 1, 2014 12:33 AMReply

    I really enjoyed the book series as well as the movie. It was wonderful seeing Odd's and Stormy's character come to life. The actors chosen to play them were simply captivating. I really hope more movies will be made from this series. They would be loved by all Odd fans.

  • Frank | March 28, 2014 9:34 PMReply

    The movie did not make him younger, it made him older. In the book he is either 20 or 21, Anton Yelchin is 25. Research what you say before you say it.

  • Dan | March 19, 2014 11:36 PMReply

    The song, Magic In The Air, by Badly Drawn Boy was perfect for that touching scene at the end.

  • Joseph Amil | March 10, 2014 6:16 PMReply

    Anton Yelchin is the best young actor I have ever had the pleasure of watching. There are big things in store for this talented young man.

  • alfa | March 9, 2014 8:44 PMReply

    Yes, Addison Timlin is totally absolutely adorable.

  • carmen | March 1, 2014 12:38 PMReply

    love the book and loved the movie ! i would watch it again on the big screen. great job adapting the story for the screen:)

  • bwaters | February 28, 2014 4:10 PMReply

    Phantoms had Peter O'Toole in it, so it wasn't a total loss.

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