Movie review: 'Odd Thomas'

Some fans of Dean Koontz’s popular recurring character, Odd Thomas, might be surprised to discover there’s a movie about him.  It got stuck in distribution hell and eventually slipped quietly onto DVD, popping up at Redbox kiosks and video-on-demand last week.  It’s too bad the film got ignored to death, because it’s pretty good. 

The title character, whose name really is “Odd Thomas” (he’s heard conflicting stories from his parents about why) is a young short-order cook working in a sunny little California town.  His name fits, because he has several psychic powers that get him into all kinds of weird adventures – most notably the ability to see both ghosts and normally invisible demonic creatures he calls “bodachs,” which enter the living world to observe and feed upon human suffering.  If the basic setup sounds a bit familiar, Odd would agree – he’s seen “The Sixth Sense,” modifying its tag line into his motto: “I see dead people… and then, by God, I do something about it.”

The movie follows the plot of the first “Odd Thomas” novel closely, as Odd notices a disturbingly large number of bodachs creeping through the streets of his town, and realizes something truly awful is about to happen.  Anton Yelchin (Mr. Chekov from the recent “Star Trek” films) does a fine job as the title character, while the heaviest hitter in the cast, Willem Dafoe, seems delighted to be playing a good guy for a change.  Since it was originally supposed to be a theatrical release, the production values are much better than most direct-to-video films, especially for the bodachs, who look and behave exactly as I always imagined they would.  They’re a good example of how the off-putting aspects of CGI can work to a film’s advantage, by creating something that just plain looks… wrong.

On the down side, fans of the book will be disappointed that the rich supporting cast of eccentric characters surrounding Odd has been reduced to a few cameos – especially disappointing with regard to one of Odd’s frequent companions, who literally becomes a cardboard cutout.  The books benefit from Odd’s often incongruously cheerful narration – he’s surrounded by death, grief, and supernatural horror, but he remains upbeat and likable – but that’s difficult to translate into a film.  The early scenes do a more energetic job of conveying the skewed perspective of the novels, while later it seems to run out of gas and turn into a more conventional supernatural thriller.  The later plot twists land with a thud; the final one in particular could have been delivered much more gracefully, with a few tweaks to scenes and dialogue that worked better on the printed page.

Mostly this story needed more room to breathe, and since there are quite a few more Odd Thomas adventures to adapt, it would work a lot better as a TV series, assuming anyone in Hollywood feels inclined to give it another shot.  The possibilities for further episodes are limitless, since Odd’s offbeat charm could freshen up any old scary-movie scenario.  Actually, the second book is really more of a science-fiction story than a horror novel.  Much could be done with the character, and after this unfortunately aborted movie effort, I wouldn’t mind seeing Anton Yelchin play him again.