Wednesday 30 October 2013

Review - ODD THOMAS (2013)

A short-order cook who has the ability to communicate with the dead and has clairvoyant powers, seeks to thwart tragedy as dark forces gather in his hometown...

Its been a hearty long while since I read the first of Dean Koontz's beloved series of books about the titular Odd, a simple, small-town guy who works as a fry-cook, lives humbly, and also happens to see dead people and a whole lot more besides.

My memory of the novel is a strong one. I remember it being both a lighthearted supernatural jaunt and also a surprisingly affecting one. So much so, that I distinctly recall shedding tears at the books close. the details of the plot are far less hi-def in my imagination than the emotional resonance the book had with me, so it'll be up to far better, less frazzled men than me to compare and contrast between the original literary piece and this troubled adaptation. Instead, I'll review this curious genre-masher on its own merits.

I say 'troubled' as its no secret that ODD THOMAS has become embroiled in some sort of legal limbo and may never actually see a cinematic release. The details are hazy at present as to by Stephen Sommers, (THE MUMMY), latest offering has been held at arms length from the public, but it sure as hell isn't down to quality control. This is a very enjoyable, fast paced and eminently lovable work. 

The first big surprise is that its director, Sommers, isn't exactly known for the integrity of his cinematic output. His films are often fun, but he seems a strange choice to adapt a beloved work of literature. Amazingly, he does wonders here, creating an off-kilter, warm and welcoming reality in which the characters of the novel are given free reign to run amok, and what characters they are...

Odd himself has become as beloved as any character in modern horror, so much so that he's featured in a whole series of hugely successful books, and Sommers has pulled an ace out his sleeve by casting Anton Yelchin as his hero. Yelchin has always exuded an every-man quality that makes him instantly relatable and not a little bit adorable, and he's a perfect fit for our supernaturally gifted crime-fighting fry-cook. There's real colour to Odd as a character, and Yelchin effortlessly embodies the inherent goodness and simple moral compass of the guy. Within two lines of dialogue, you'll be thinking of him as yer best buddy, just like in the books. 

The supporting cast do wonders too. Odd's desert hometown of Peco Mundo plays host to a wonderfully quirky locale. And it appears that Yelchin's breezy and disarming approach to his character is reflected in the performances of all who ride this ship. Willem Dafeo is aways a boss, and here is no exception. As the long-suffering cop who has to clean up after Odd's many heroic deeds, he's world weary, funny and very amiable. A father figure we'd all like on our side.

As the love of Odd's life, 'Stormy', Ashley Sommers makes you sit up and take notice. Not only due to her shockingly beautiful appearance, (and derriere), but due to sheer star appeal. She's charismatic in all the right ways that her character requires. Odd's a unique guy with an unflappable positivism, and it takes an equally optimistic and bright gal to convince us that he'd be head over heels for her. No worries there...the chemistry is so sound between these two that even Walter White couldn't find shit to complain about.

The approach to characters in ODD THOMAS is echoed in every aspect of the production. It deals with horrific, and sometimes saddening situations, but the whole show has a welcoming lightness of touch that's very hard not to love. It boasts some real tension, not least due to the audience authentically caring for the players, and it's not afraid to get its hands dirty and get it's 'violent' on, but it's all so damned quirkadelic that you're never in danger of taking it too seriously, as is clearly the intent. This is the very definition of a good time, no string attached.

If I have any criticism of the film at all, it's that its perhaps too light in some spots. As I mentioned, the book left me an emotional paste, and the film, while touching, never has the same impact. The tone of this adaptation is faithful to the book, but lacks the resonance that can be found in the pages of Koontz's novel. It's a small criticism though. After all, we're not here to be profoundly touched. We're here to be entertained, and ODD THOMAS is fantastically entertaining. The humor, the atmosphere, the characters...they all endear. The changes from book to screen may irk some, (Elvis Presley is eluded to in a visual joke here - fans of the novel will understand and perhaps bemoan the reference), of Koontz's readership, but they don't hurt the work at all. In terms of film-making, the changes actually ring very true.

The spirit of the novel does remain intact. The subject matter - that of a mass-shooting and one mans attempts to stop it - may be pitch black, but the sense of adventure helps soften what may be an uncomfortable subject for some. I find it highly unlikely that this film will offend. It loves it's characters, and it wants you to love them too. Without ever becoming morose or forlorn, ODD THOMAS looks at love and sacrifice, and smiles on through the darkness. It's ALL about the love, kids.

I'm unsure what budget Sommers' had to work with her, but the film looks great. The effects work very well within the context of the story, not the least those used to bring alive the dark forces that infest Odd's happy hometown. I won;t give away any of the goodies, but there are some excellent, (and pretty freaky), visual flourishes to be found here.

If you're looking for something different from the usual horror fare; something that oozes heart and style, and that will take you on a genuinely original and fun ride, look no further. Gentle comedy. Effective and suspenseful horror. A truly adorable romance. Fast paced and well shot action. Authentic tragedy...this adaptation has em all. It deserves to be seen by one and all. Dead or alive.

Fry on, Odd...Fry on...

7.5 Spongebob Square-Ghosts out of 10

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