The Odd Thomas Movie Is Better Than You Think (Because of Anton Yelchin)

I don’t usually cry at celebrity deaths, but I teared up when I learned of Anton Yelchin’s passing. He always seemed like a genuinely caring, decent person. And though he was only 27, he’d put out a remarkable amount of high-quality work. It breaks my heart to think of all the roles Anton Yelchin never got to play, all the lives he never got to touch, all the years he never got to live.

On the night of his death last year, I went back and rewatched two of my favorite films of Yelchin’s, Fright Night and Odd Thomas. If this year is any indication, it’s going to be an annual tradition. Now, I’m not going to argue that these are his best films—that honor goes to Green Room and Only Lovers Left Alive—but they are the ones I keep going back to, like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. I’ve written before about my boundless adoration of the updated Fright Night, so now let me talk your ear off about the other Yelchin movie love of my life, the delightfully odd Odd Thomas.

Mild spoilers ahoy.

If you aren’t familiar with Odd Thomas yet, here’s the skinny: based on an urban fantasy series by Dean Koontz, the movie is about a young man named Odd (Yelchin) who can see the dead. They let him know who killed them, and he considers it his responsibility to go after the culprits. He delivers the killers, usually after a physical altercation and some fudging of the details, to police chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), who keeps his secret as a trade-off for cleaning up the streets of their small desert town, Pico Mundo. Odd’s life is easy and uncomplicated; he has no vehicle, no property, not even health insurance, and works a chill but dead-end job as a cook at a diner, where he hangs out with his girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin), the manager of a mall ice cream shop.

Things quickly become more complicated when a creepy dude turns up at the diner, bringing with him a hoard of bodachs—freaky invisible creatures drawn to sites of future acts of horrific violence. Odd sets out to investigate the creepo and gets sucked into a mystery that’s bigger than he can handle on his own. When diner waitress Viola (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has a nightmare about her own death, and as more bodachs infest the town, Odd has to stop an unknown crime from being perpetrated by unknown assailants. Think the Dresden Files books crossed with the movie version of Constantine, but with a cast of chipper young ‘uns against a small town/desert background. The film was set up to spin off into a franchise, but instead it took a thrashing from critics and tanked at the box office.

It’s not like the poor ratings weren’t well-deserved. The plot is scattershot, full of so many holes that it gives Swiss cheese a run for its money. There was so much obvious cutting, editing, and reshooting that the whole thing feels stitched together, rather than presenting a cohesive whole. Lazy filming choices like slo-mo action shots, techno beats over fighting scenes, quick pans and zooms, and an infodump-y voiceover give the film a campy, made-for-TV air. Even for a relatively low-budget action flick, the CGI is cheap, shoddy, and obvious. I’ve seen better CGI on network television—it’s that bad.

None of the characters have any real depth or development. The movie is so concerned with freaking out the audience with spooky effects that it forgets to do anything interesting with its characters. Nothing the characters do has any real motivation, explanation, or logic behind it other than the fact that the script needs them to get from point A to point B.

Women, of course, are treated the worst. All four of the adult women are reduced to sex objects, constantly subjected to the ever-pervasive male gaze. Viola’s wardrobe consists of mostly push-up bras and low-cut tops. Stormy works retail all day long in short shorts and high heeled wedges and parades around Odd’s bedroom in a baggy t-shirt and lacy thong. Lysette (Melissa Ordway), a friend of the police chief, appears just long enough to be forced to run for her life in a halter top before being abruptly fridged. Even the wife of the Chief of Police exists only to fret, dangle from her husband’s arm, and occasionally turn up in sexy positions. Despite having seen this movie a million times, I still can’t remember her name…that’s how little she affects the story or other characters.

And yet, even though the characters are all surface and the high stakes are lowered by hodgepodge editing, Odd Thomas is still a surprisingly pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. There’s a rollicking supernatural adventure tale under all the lackluster execution. A bigger budget, less post-focus group finagling, and axing the insistent male gaze would have gone a long way in bringing the movie’s strengths to the fore. More importantly, I genuinely like Odd and Stormy. I like spending time with them, watching them untangle the mystery, and working together to save the day. Odd is quirky and weird and a bit of a doofus, but he pulls it together when he has to. Stormy is bright and cheery and wiser than she appears. I love the world Odd lives in, the hint at a greater supernatural mystery looming in the background, the tease of more adventures to come.

And I love Anton Yelchin as Odd. Yelchin had a way of elevating a movie just by being in it. He took a cheesy urban fantasy flick and imbued it with passion, fear, and sense of belief. Rather than phoning it in like a lot of actors would have, he brought truth and genuine feeling. Yelchin makes Odd pop off the screen with energy and excitement. There’s this moment near the end of the film where Odd bids farewell to another character, and Yelchin completely pours himself into it. Odd trembles as he tries to keep from weeping. The gesture is so minute, but powerful. It’s a tremendous moment. He single-handedly turns a clunky finale into a powerhouse of emotion through sheer force of will and talent.

Odd Thomas will always have my heart. Part of what makes it so enjoyable is that it was adapted and directed by Stephen Somers, writer, director, and producer of other goofy “dude battles monsters” movies like The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, Van Helsing, and Deep Rising. Odd Thomas has a lot in common with the Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz Mummy series. Both took a dumb premise seriously enough to make it earnest but not so seriously as to crush it under the weight of its own ego (looking at you, Tom Cruise’s Mummy remake). They benefited from casting good-to-great actors and didn’t let the material talk down to the characters. And most importantly, they made sure to balance the heavy drama with playfulness and humor. There was no way Odd Thomas would ever be considered, by any stretched definition, a “good” movie…but it sure is a helluva lot of fun.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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