Some years back my friend Greg of Open Letters to my Enemies fame introduced me to Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas novels. I read the first three in the series (and enjoyed the first two). They’re about a guy with a weird name who helps to solve murder mysteries and stop crimes from happening and stuff by virtue of his power to, you know, see the spirits of dead folk. They’re pulpy grocery-store fare, but fun (at least, again, the first two).
Odd Thomas the film effectively captures the pulpiness of the novels–so successfully, in fact, that you might find it annoying if you don’t already have a soft spot for the books. The dialogue is endlessly quippy, on the level of CSI or NCIS or whatever other snappy hip shenanigans the kids are into these days. Actually the dialogue is pretty bad in general. I’ve only read a handful of Koontz novels, but he’s pretty chatty: his whole tone, both in his narration and in spoken dialogue, is very conversational. It seems like they tried to carry a lot of that over into the film, which would make sense; but unfortunately, because so much is explained through Odd’s inner monologue, it ends up being really bulky and unwieldy and awkward.
There’s not a great deal of substance in the novel, and there’s significantly less here. Koontz writes as if everyone views the world in the same way he does, which is fine in theory, but in practice it often ends up feeling like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation a lonely man is having with himself about how the world keeps holding him down.
Also there are golden lines like: “I’m a woman. We all have issues. It’s what keeps us interesting and you men interested.” Ugh.
But if you can get past the eye-rolling smarm, it’s actually kinda fun. The plot’s fairly simple: there’s a new weird guy in town and Odd sees him surrounded by bodachs, which he takes to signal an impending disaster wherein lots of people die. The film is essentially Odd’s quest to stop the massacre from occurring. He does this primarily by following the CGI bodachs around to figure out where the deaths will occur and who will be affected. He also can track people psychically, sort of. So he and his lady friend Stormy eventually figure out that the weird new guy is planning a mass shooting in a shopping mall, only actually, he’s dead, and–well, that’s about all I can tell you.
The whole film is just sugary pop silliness, but that can be a good thing. There are these weird Guy Ritchie-esque editing tricks that reinforce the lightheartedness of the movie (despite the fact that some of the themes are quite dark), and it feels in some ways like a straight-to-video, less comical Zombieland or Ocean’s 11. It’s stupid, but it’s fun stupid.
Ultimately it’s yet another movie adaptation that would benefit from reading the book first, because it’s so full of self-referential smirkiness that it’s probably just annoying otherwise. But if you’re looking for a moderately enjoyable, brainless cross-genre movie with ghosts and bad CG, you could do worse than Odd Thomas.
Oh, Willem Dafoe’s in it too. So that’s cool.