'Odd Thomas' Director: Stephen Sommers Stars: Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe Rating: PG-13 2 (out of 5) Globes
Among the critical cognoscenti, there exists a batch who’ve formed a noble wave called “vulgar auteurism." They seek to do what certain progressive-minded critics did in the 1950s and 1960s: defend and embrace those working in lowly trash genres as being worthy of serious study. They’ve come to the defense of Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil” films, lately “Pomepii”) and John Hyams (“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”), who so far works mostly in DTV.
Someone seeking to really flex critical muscles — even if just as an exercise — would do well to mount a defense of Stephen Sommers. The director’s early work isn’t all that obnoxious: the monsters-on-a-cruise-ship number “Deep Rising” has its fans, and even his first go at “The Mummy” is a decent, even charming “Indiana Jones” knockoff. But beginning with that franchise’s sequel, he tumbled into aggressive storytelling nonsense, married to special effects that look, frankly, ugly. Even to those who’ve switched their brains to “off,” “Van Helsing” and the first “G.I. Joe” can seem like wastes of time.
With “Odd Thomas” Sommers goes back to his low budget roots. It’s an adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel, which launched sequels, as it was designed to. Played in the film by Anton Yelchin, his name really is Odd — a result of a bureaucratic snafu at the hospital in which he was born. He also has telepathic powers. He sees dead people, a power he wields reluctantly, even when he’s called on to solve the occasional murder and, in this tale, snoop into the appearance of a lot of hellbeasts that look like cellophane wrappers.
The monsters are the most glaring limitation of the tiny budget. They're supposed to be half-formed, but they end up looking quarter-formed — a couple 1s and 0s more than the gif villains of "Birdemic." But you don’t need untold millions to create ADD editing styles. Every cut comes with a sound effect “whoosh!”, and with Sommers’ attention spans, that means we’re hearing pointless noises every two seconds.
It’s a loud and hideous film, overwhelming what seems like a likable, breezy supernatural YA script. In supporting roles — as a spastic Chekhov in “Star Trek” and an oblivious dealer in Jim Jarmusch’s forthcoming “Only Lovers Left Alive” — Yelchin is a winning presence. As lead, in the “Fright Night” remake and “Like Crazy,” he lacks the personality to carry a picture through. He’s only somewhat interesting here, but the idea of a sunny, California town overrun with demons and murderers isn’t a bad one. And just when you're thinking that baddies have to be really stupid to hatch a plot in a town that boasts a known psychic, that becomes part of the plot.
But the film winds up more in keeping with Sommers’ most recent work: noisy, pointlessly busy, headache-inducing. He directs like he’s working from a poor script, which he isn’t. And so he torpedoes its potential. Sommers might be the worst director working who’s not Uwe Boll, who at least has accidental charm.