Fans of the prolific Dean Koontz are probably accustomed by now to less-than-optimal adaptations of his fiction, so there shouldn’t be too much grumbling about “Odd Thomas,” a would-be franchise launcher drawn from the first of six (to date) novels in the titular series. The grousing so far is more about when fans can see it at all: Writer-director-producer Stephen Sommers’ film has been released in a few offshore territories, but remains hampered by legal disputes between companies involved. In any case, this fantasy-comedy-thriller with Anton Yelchin as a clairvoyant hero is a slick, watchable contraption, but the books’ juggling of tricky tonal and narrative devices translates into a screen result less clever than arbitrary and silly. Lawsuit-clouded status aside, its future looks brightest in home formats.
Yelchin’s Odd is aptly named, as he has certain abilities he needs to keep secret — from everyone save loyal g.f. Stormy (Addison Timlin) and local police Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe) — lest he be thrown in the loony bin like his wildly temperamental mother (a very briefly seen Leonor Varela). These paranormal talents include seeing the unhappy dead, who often point him toward their unpunished killers. He can also see Bordachs, nasty, slithering creatures invisible to the ordinary eye, their presence signaling mayhem to come; they don’t cause harm, but are attracted to imminent death and suffering. Between this publicly unacknowledged job as a “detective for dead people” (or those who will be if he doesn’t intervene), Odd works as a short-order cook in his desert burg of Pico Mundo.
Things don’t look good when he perceives a virtual riot of Bordachs in town, particularly wherever scruffy-looking loner Fungus Bob (Shuler Hensley) goes. Trying to stop whatever cataclysm from happening, Odd jumps through a lot of hoops, his voiceover narration working overtime to explain why what we’ve just seen matters (or doesn’t, as some events turn out to be red herrings). In the end, his mission makes no particular sense, capping a whole movie very busy with action and intrigue that all feel quite random.
Sommers attempts to glue it all together with a raffish all-in-fun tone (despite some gory moments and unpleasant conceits), but the pic is neither witty nor macabre enough to pull off Koontz’s balance of elements in cinematic terms. So it winds up coming off as just another CGI-laden ride that’s at once overstuffed and undernourished. The cluttered f/x side comes off better than the human one does, as the superficially etched characters can’t summon the emotional depth to capitalize on a last-minute reversal that ought to provide a poignant fade.
In a better film, Yelchin’s game performance might have seemed a worthy franchise anchor; Timlin, however, provides weak romantic interest, while Dafoe rather understandably has his “just phoning it in” face on. Though hardly budgeted on the tentpole scale of Sommers’ prior “Mummy” pics, “Van Helsing,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” etc., “Odd Thomas” nonetheless shares their thorough tech/design polish — as well as a certain generic noisy-mall-flick quality.