Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Odd Thomas: Koontz’s Spooky Short Order Cook Finally Makes it to the Big Screen

This Dean Koontz protagonist is not shy when it comes to voice-over narration, but never exactly breaks the fourth wall, per se. He is probably entitled to his own eccentric commentary, considering he has the ability to see ghosts and bodachs, supernatural parasites that feed on fear and suffering. However, his greatest nemesis might be lawyers, given the legal wrangling that long delayed the release of Stephen Sommers’ Odd Thomas (trailer here), which finally opens in New York this Friday.

Thomas comes from crazy stock and therefore understands the need to keep his dubious gift secret. Only a handful of people know of his power, including Pico Mundo’s chief of police Wyatt Porter, who appreciates the sort of inside information Thomas can provide. His loyal girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn is also in on the truth and a few of their friends vaguely suspect he has the Shine.

Normally, he chases down workaday serial killers before they can murder again, like his former classmate Harlo Landerson from the film’s prologue. However, the alarming number of bodachs converging on Pico Mundo portends a tragedy of grander scale.  They seem particularly interested in “Fungus Bob” Robertson, so dubbed by Thomas and Llewellyn because of his unfortunate grooming habits. Robertson also has an unhealthy interest in Satanism and a couple of mystery friends. Thomas will try to sleuth out Robertson’s plans without alerting the bodachs to his uncanny powers of perception, because they do not take kindly to folks like Thomas.

Frankly, the first half of Odd Thomas feels like a ghost-hunting TV show from the 1980’s, with its quaint small town setting and Thomas’s wholesome courtship of Llewellyn. However, as the stakes and tension start to rise, the film becomes considerably darker.  Sommers (best known for The Mummy and G.I. Joe franchises) pulls off some third act sleight-of-hand surprisingly adroitly and the manner in which earthly cults intersect with paranormal malevolence is somewhat intriguing.

Still, Anton Yelchin and Addison Timlin are almost too cute and freshly scrubbed-looking as Thomas and Llewellyn. Frankly, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy was much edgier, notwithstanding the characters’ dark backstories in the Koontz source novel.  Still, Odd Thomas has the distinction of featuring Willem Dafoe as an unqualified good guy, without even the hint of moral compromise, perhaps for the first time since Triumph of the Spirit. He is actually not bad plodding along with all due decency as Chief Porter.

Arguably, the biggest issue for Odd Thomas is the lack of a strong villain. Broadway actor Shuler Hensley is game enough as Robertson, but the character is played more for yucks than scares. Likewise, the bodach effects are serviceable enough, but not especially memorable.

When watching Odd Thomas one can see how it probably works so much better as a novel. There is some pop at the end that presumably has even more kick on the page. Yet, the film as a whole has the feel of an extended pilot that it never shakes off.  Better than you might expect, but still better suited to the small screen, Odd Thomas finally opens this Friday (2/28) in New York.