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Screen Themes: Nobody vs Mortal Kombat

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In the wake of the least-watched Oscars in recent history, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a pair of decidedly non-award-worthy movies currently in cinemas.

Nobody (2021)

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

If you enjoy the ultraviolence of the John Wick series but are intimidated by Keanu Reeves’ ageless charisma, Nobody might be the movie for you. Starring comedian Bob Odenkirk, Nobody tells the entirely predictable but nonetheless entertaining tale of Hutch Mansell, a former special forces operative who has retired to a life of monotonous frustration in suburbia.

After an exceptionally bad week involving a home invasion and an encounter with Russian mobsters, Hutch snaps and goes on a rampage, taking out a group of Eastern European goons with ruthless efficiency. When the mob comes after Hutch’s family, he locks them in the panic room/basement and goes on a killing spree that would impress Charles Bronson.

While Nobody is undoubtedly Bob Odenkirk’s movie — and we may even see an unlikely Liam Neeson-style action career second act for the comedian – the supporting cast is worth a mention. Christopher Lloyd is delightful as Hutch’s pragmatic father, while Michael Ironside and RZA add to the general tough-guy vibe. On the downside, the talented Connie Neilsen doesn’t have a lot to do as Becca – relegated to the disapproving wife role – and the bad guys are so generic as to be instantly forgettable.  

Some commentators have decried Nobody for glorifying violence and unrealistic male revenge fantasies and to those commentators, I say: Well, duh. Nobody is not a movie with layers of nuance. It is a movie where the guy from Mr Show kills a bunch of people with everything from firearms to household objects in increasingly ridiculous ways.

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Directed by Simon McQuoid

It could be argued that there has never been a great video-game-to-movie adaptation. Cultural doyens Vulture rank 1995’s Mortal Kombat as the "least worst" video game adaptation (worst is the Uwe Boll-directed Postal), while the boffins over at Gamesradar rank Pokémon: Detective Pikachu as the best — although the inclusion of the deadly-dull Assassin's Creed at number three brings their ranking system into question.

Whatever your feelings about the quality (or lack thereof) of video game adaptations, it’s probably fair to say that this latest version of Mortal Kombat is not going to change anyone’s mind. While the movie starts out with some promise – portraying the ambush and murder of Scorpion’s family at the hands of the nefarious Sub Zero – it quickly abandons this plot for the story of a washed-up mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter (the personality-free Lewis Tan) acting as an unnecessary audience surrogate.

Probably the biggest criticism that could be levelled at Mortal Kombat is that it doesn’t actually get to the titular fighting tournament, instead, it presents a series of random brawls that substitute gore for any kind of coherence.

This is not the fault of the actors, which includes martial arts legends like Joe Taslim (The Raid), Hiroyuki Sanada (Westworld) and Ludi Lin (Power Rangers), but rather, first-time director Simon McQuoid, who seems unable to get past the first act of the film. Look, I get that the studio wanted to set up a sequel, but this is as if the movie Bloodsport was simply about Jean-Claude Van Damme getting an Uber to the stadium.

Fortunately, one thing rescues Mortal Kombat from being a complete failure and that’s Josh Lawson playing mercenary Kano. Seemingly in an entirely different movie to the rest of the po-faced cast, Lawson has a ball as the scummy Kano, swearing like a wharfie while reinforcing every ludicrous Hollywood stereotype about Australians. I would suggest that Mortal Kombat may be improved by a drinking game where one takes a shot every time Lawson says "fuck", but I have no desire to kill you, dear readers.

The Verdict

2021 is a weird time for movies. There is quality fare out there if you don’t mind subscribing to multiple streaming services, but the big screen is dominated by action movies that would usually disappear without a trace. As a lifelong movie fan, I sincerely hope the cinema industry isn’t on its last legs — but studios are going to have to put out much better movies than Nobody or Mortal Kombat to attract casual fans back to the big screen.

Honestly, I would be hard-pressed to recommend anyone spend their hard-earned money on tickets to either Nobody or Mortal Kombat. If you really want to go to the movies and these are your only options, I’d suggest Nobody, as it actually has something resembling a coherent plot.

Nobody – 4/10

Mortal Kombat – 3/10

John Turnbull is Independent Australia's entertainment editor, a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado.

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