Film Review: Odd Thomas

The audience for this surprisingly successful adaptation of horror icon Dean Koontz's gentle fantasy about a young fry cook who helps sad dead people move on with their afterlives is likely to be limited to fans of the novels (currently up to six), who

Twenty-year-old Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin)—"Odd" being his actual name, not a title or putdown—may not look like much of a catch: He's blandly attractive, dresses like the high-school kid with whom no one remembers ever having had a class, has never left his small Nevada hometown, works at a local diner and doesn't even own a car. But a handful of people know there's more to him than meets the eye. Born to pathologically selfish parents, Thomas has transcended his awful upbringing and cultivated an ability to communicate with the dead… not talk, because they don't, but he's able to see them and deduce their sorrows (most of which involve the living), using that information to help them resolve the conflicts that keep them tethered to the world of the living. Seen in that light, it's not so surprising that he has the ear of sweetly righteous police Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe) and the love of the cutest, coolest girl in town, Bronwen "Stormy" Llewellyn (Addison Timlin), a true romantic with a heart so pure her eyes glitter like dewdrops.

Odd's first hint that there's trouble in town comes in the form of bodachs, slithery spirits drawn to pain and carnage; they show up one day by the dozens, dogging the footsteps of unfortunately coiffed stranger Bob Robertson (Shuler Hensley), whom Stormy promptly dubs "Fungus Bob." Clearly, Bob needs keeping an eye on, and keep an eye Odd does…but there's more to Bob than meets that eye as well, and until Odd can piece together enough clues to get past the façade and see him for what he is, the good people of Pico Mundo will remain in danger.

Make no mistake: Odd Thomas is not for every taste, and for many viewers it will rank somewhere on a scale that starts with twee and ratchets up to insufferable. Yet its resolute sweetness in the face of fairly credible horror has the potential to beguile, say, those occasionally willing to clap their hands for Tinkerbell. And it's hard not to admire a movie so determined to pack up the snark and the easy cynicism in favor of embracing the notion that old-fashioned hippie-dippie faith in the power of goodness can be cool.

The film is seriously flawed—Thomas' endless voiceover, in particular, is seriously grating even though it's clearly a device designed to allow greater access to his inner life than could be crammed into maid-and-butler dialogue with characters who already know Thomas too well for such conversations to be plausible. But it's also consistent and bracingly true to the first novel in at least one way that must have occasioned some hand-wringing…suffice it to say that not everything comes up rainbows and unicorns. And while Stephen Sommers, who made his name with shallow, hyperkinetic and overproduced action pictures like The Mummy, Van Helsing and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, has got to be the last filmmaker any reasonable person would imagine suited to this material, he stays out of its way—and that's no mean feat.

Between the negative high-concept narrative and slippery tone, it's hard to imagine Odd Thomas doing any kind of theatrical business—a great ad campaign wouldn't bring in mall crowds and a bad one would put a stake through its heart. But it could find a nontheatrical niche, and perhaps even launch a modest cable-TV franchise.