Review: ‘Tankhouse,’ starring Tara Holt, Stephen Friedrich, Richard Kind and Christopher Lloyd

May 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left right: Sarah Yarkin (in back) Luke Spencer Roberts, Joe Adler, Nadia Alexander, Tara Holt, Stephen Friedrich, Devere Rogers and Austin Crute in “Tankhouse” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Tankhouse”

Directed by Noam Tomaschoff

Culture Representation: Taking place in Fargo, North Dakota, and briefly in New York City, the comedy film “Tankhouse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and one Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After being blacklisted from the New York City theater scene, engaged actor couple Tucker Charlamagne and Sandrene St. Jean go to Fargo, North Dakota, to enter a performing arts contest where the winner will get a residency at the newly restored Fargo Theatre.

Culture Audience: “Tankhouse” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of satirical comedies about theater people, but the movie’s silly tone wears thin very quickly.

Stephen Friedrich and Tara Holt in “Tankhouse” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The performing arts parody “Tankhouse” isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. The movie’s broadly written characters are hollow. The comedy too often misses the mark. Hint: Shouting witless dialogue doesn’t make it more amusing. And there’s a lot of shouting in this movie, as the cast members were apparently told that their characters have to yell for no good reason for about half of their screen time.

Directed by Noam Tomaschoff (who co-wrote “Tankhouse” with Chelsea Frei), “Tankhouse” is based on a short film of the same name written by Tomaschoff and Frei. Both “Tankhouse” movies take inspiration from the real-life New York City theater experiences of Tomaschoff and Frei, who both took an opportunity to go to a smaller city to stage a production. It’s essentially a similar story for the “Tankhouse” protagonist couple—Tucker Charlamagne (played by Stephen Friedrich) and Sandrene St. Jean (played by Tara Holt)—two down-on-their-luck actors who are engaged to be married and who stage a production in Fargo, North Dakota, after their careers falter in New York City.

In the “Tankhouse” feature film production notes, Frei says that Sandrene and Tucker are “absurd versions” of herself and Tomaschoff. In the case of Tucker, you can also add the description “extremely obnoxious.” That’s because Tucker (who talks the most in this movie) is a rude and pretentious twit who wants to be the “alpha male” of everything, but he ends up making a mess of things, more often than not. Because so much of the “Tankhouse” narrative is given to Tucker, the movie becomes as blustering and buffoonish as Tucker.

“Tankhouse” is also one of those movies that pulls a “bait and switch” on audiences, by giving well-known actors top billing, but those actors aren’t in the movie for very long. Fans of actor Christopher Lloyd (who’s best known for his roles in the “Back to the Future” movies and the sitcom “Taxi”) will be disappointed to find out that his total screen time in “Tankhouse” is less than 10 minutes, with all of his scenes happening in the first third of the movie. Notable character actor Richard Kind (best known for his roles in the TV comedy series “Mad About You” and “Spin City”) also shares top billing for “Tankhouse,” but his screen time is limited to less than 10 minutes too.

The “Tankhouse” movie poster also shows Kind, Holt, Friedrich and Lloyd all peeking out together from a stage curtain. It’s a misleading image, because it suggests that all four of them are equal co-stars in “Tankhouse.” The reality is that Lloyd and Kind barely have supporting roles in the movie, and their roles are basically just playing cranky know-it-alls, which is the type of character they’ve played many times already in movies and TV. Can you say “typecasting”?

“Tankhouse” has some whimsical-looking animation for some flashback scenes, including an early scene in the movie when narrator Tucker explains how he met and fell in love with Sandrene. (Her real last name is Rothstein. St. Jean is her stage surname.) Tucker says that shortly after getting his bachelor of fine arts degree at an unnamed university, he was directing an off-off-Broadway movement piece in New York City when Sandrene walked into the show.

Sandrene was doing research for a cop TV series called “Rookie Badge” that she was about to co-star in, but her role ended up being drastically reduced. Sandrene and Tucker began dating and have been a couple for an unspecified period of time. Tucker is the type of actor who looks down on TV work. He believes that an actor’s true merit and talent can be found doing work on stage. Tucker’s snobbery toward television is something to keep in mind during a plot development later in “Tankhouse.”

Now in their 30s, Sandrene and Tucker are engaged to be married. And they’re still struggling actors in New York City. However, a possible bright spot in their careers is that Tucker and Sandrene have been put in charge of the Artist Atelier Acting Studio, an avant-garde performing arts group founded by Buford Slezinger (played by Lloyd), who has been Tucker’s mentor. Buford stepped down as the leader of the Artist Atelier Acting Studio because his chronic battle with gout has resulted in him using a wheelchair.

It’s implied that Buford is an “old school” sexist, because one of the first things that he’s shown doing is barking out his “rules” for success to the small group of people in this theater troupe: “I have two notes: (1) A worthy actress must always carry a fan; (2) If you want to make it in this business, you’ve got to immediately lose 10 pounds.”

Buford likes to think that he’s a highly respected guru of the New York theater scene, but he doesn’t have a large following. The Artist Atelier Acting Studio has a very small number of actors: only seven, including Tucker and Sandrene. And this small theater group often gets an even smaller audience for performances. Even though Buford has stepped down from his leadership position for the Artist Atelier Acting Studio, Buford stays involved in the group by being a consultant/advisor.

Tucker likes to talk in flowery speech to make it sound like he’s a theater-trained actor who’s always the smartest actor in the room. However, his social skills are horrible, since Tucker frequently loses his temper and berates the people around him. Sandrene is usually spared Tucker’s wrath because she passively goes along with almost everything he wants to do.

Adding to Tucker’s pompous and ridiculous persona, he styles his hair and wears clothes like he’s a trying to be a combination of a Brooklyn hipster and “Pirates of the Caribbean” character Captain Jack Sparrow. For example, Tucker is the type of man who will wear flowing scarves with a black leather jacket. And his fashion choices for his theater troupe are questionable at best, since he makes the troupe members all wear unitards or onesies in their performances.

It’s at one of these performances that leads to the downfall of Tucker and Sandrene in the New York City theater scene. The Artist Atelier Acting Studio troupe is doing a rooftop performance in the Bronx, with only six people watching the show. The performance involves spontaneous interaction with the audience members.

One of the audience members is a wheelchair-using elderly woman (played by Bunny Levine), who ends up having a heart attack during the vigorous audience interaction part of the show. As a result of the heart attack, she dies during this performance. And there happens to be a theater critic in the audience named Jax Wynn (played by Rebecca Sohn), who (not surprisingly) gives the show a very negative review.

The woman who died during the show wasn’t just any audience member. Her name was Doris Feinstein. She was the “nana” (grandmother) of Artist Atelier Acting Studio member Asher (played by Carlos R. Chavez), and she was the Artist Atelier Acting Studio’s only financial backer. With their principal benefactor now deceased, the group has an emergency meeting with Buford observing.

Sandrene expresses her condolences to Asher about his grandmother’s death, but insensitive Tucker exclaims about Doris’ last moments: “Doris lived as she never lived before! Nana’s death: It’s the circle of life!” And this callous comment is not the only thing that causes alienation. The rest of the group members express their anger at Tucker and Sandrene for the couple making the group members do extreme performance tactics, such as having unsimulated sex and using real guns during a show.

Tucker and Sandrene are informed that the rest of the group has voted to oust Tucker and Sandrene as leaders of the Artist Atelier Acting Studio. Buford agrees that the majority of the group should decide this matter. And so, Tucker and Sandrene no longer have a theater group. When they try to get work elsewhere, they find out that they’ve been blacklisted because of the death that happened during that rooftop performance.

With their money running out and their rent due, Tucker and Sandrene are visited by Sandrene’s parents Deirdra (played by Joey Lauren Adams) and Bob (played by Andy Buckley), who still live in Sandrene’s hometown of Fargo. Tucker and Sandrene tell her parents that they have a great idea to start a theater troupe, but they need Deirdra and Bob to invest some money in it. Deirdra and Bob have been helping Sandrene financially, but this time, they’ve had enough of financially supporting her, so they say no to this pitch.

However, Deirdra tells Tucker and Sandrene that the Fargo Theatre has been recently refurbished and restored. And the city of Fargo is having a performing arts contest where the winner will get a residency at the Fargo Theatre. Theater snob Tucker is dead-set against the idea, because he thinks going to a place like Fargo is far beneath his talent. Sandrene is more open to the idea, especially since her parents offered their ranch house to Sandrene and Tucker to stay rent-free in Fargo, while Deirdra and Bob go on a safari in Tanzania.

Tucker asks Buford for his advice in this matter. To Tucker’s surprise and dismay, Buford suggests that Tucker and Sandrene go to Fargo for this opportunity. Buford tells Tucker that Tucker and Sandrene need to expand their actor experiences outside of New York City and that they can learn from these experiences. After some unsuccessful attempts to get enough cash to pay their rent, Tucker reluctantly changes his mind and goes to Fargo with Sandrene so that they can enter the contest.

Before going to Fargo, Sandrene was selling some of her clothes at a vintage store when she encountered a friend named Brian (played by “Tankhouse” director Tomaschoff), whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. In this scene, Sandrene and Brian catch up on what’s been going on in their lives, but Sandrene doesn’t tell him about her recent career problems. Brian tells Sandrene that he’s now a talent coordinator at a big agency called United Talent International.

Brian offers to help find actor work for Sandrene, who is thrilled. But the timing couldn’t be worse, because she will soon be going to Fargo, for who knows how long. Still, she’s open to opportunities where she can audition with video recordings. Sandrene doesn’t tell Tucker about it though, because she knows that this agency is most likely to find her a job in TV or in movies, and Tucker disapproves of any actor work that isn’t on stage.

Tucker also has a very jealous side to him. It comes out when Tucker and Sandrene go to Fargo, and they encounter Sandrene’s ex-boyfriend from high school. His name is Hank (played by Alex Esola), and he seems to still be in awe of Sandrene. At an Open Mic night at a local bar, Tucker becomes even more irritated when Hank invites Sandrene to sing with Hank during an acoustic guitar performance. She enthusiastically accepts the offer, and Tucker watches their duet while seething with annoyance.

Somehow, a bar fight ensues that lands Tucker and Sandrene in jail, where they meet an eccentric, wannabe actor named Uther (played by Devere Rogers), who always wears sunglasses because he claims to be legally blind. After getting out on bail, Tucker and Sandrene decide they’re going to form a theater group to enter the contest. Their biggest competition is a theater group named Red River Players, formed by Morten Mortensen (played by Kind), who used to be Sandrene’s drama teacher in high school.

Tucker and Sandrene then assemble a theater group that consists of Uther and five young bar patrons who saw Sandrene perform with Hank. These five other Fargo misfits are mild-mannered tech nerd Nina (played by Sarah Yarkin); Viking-obsessed Scandinavian immigrant Yorick (played by Joe Adler); militant feminist Leah (played by Nadia Alexander); and semi-closeted gay couple Jack (played by Austin Crute) and Brady (played by Luke Spencer Roberts), who have a “coming out” scene that is awkward at best. The group’s rehearsal space is a place called Tankhouse, a warehouse-styled building that Yorick has turned into a makeshift moonshine distillery. The expected hijinks ensue in a movie where the characters want to win a contest, but these shenanigans are a lot duller than they should be.

As the optimistic but often-flaky actress Sandrene, Holt gives the best performance out of all the “Tankhouse” cast members, because she comes closest to not letting the character become a caricature. Tucker is just a train wreck abomination for most of the movie, and Friedkin seems to be doing the best he can with portraying an insufferable jerk. Any transformations that Tucker might experience to improve his personality are very abrupt and crammed in as an afterthought to make him look redeemable. However, all of the characters in “Tankhouse” ultimately are very shallow and written as “types” instead of fully formed personalities.

“Tankhouse” isn’t a completely horrible movie. There are sporadic moments that should bring some laughs, such as a “musical theater” verbal battle (similar to a rap battle), with Sandrene and Tucker versus Morten in performing “The Pirates of Penzance” song “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.” Tucker the lunkhead also has some moments that should make viewers laugh, such as his habit of unwittingly mispronouncing words. His bungled linguistics are supposed to be ironic, considering that Tucker wants to have an image of being a highbrow actor with a strong command of the English language.

But these occasionally comical moments in “Tankhouse” are overshadowed by all the moronic posturing, dimwitted character scheming and the aforementioned unnecessary shouting of mediocre lines that pollute “Tankhouse.” The movie’s musical score—written by Craig McConnell and clearly inspired by 1980s sitcom music—alternates between sometimes sounding appropriate for the scenes, and other times just being downright aggravating. The middle section of the movie drags monotonously, even when “Tankhouse” attempts to have a high-energy, slapstick tone throughout the movie.

Physical comedy works best if the dialogue and characters are interesting too. Unfortunately, “Tankhouse” falls short when it comes to having dialogue and characters that are truly engaging. Watching “Tankhouse” is like being stuck in a room with people manically telling mostly bad jokes for about 90 minutes, and the people telling the jokes mistakenly think that they’re hilarious. The “Tankhouse” filmmakers also do not present the story in a consistent way, because “Tankhouse” tries and fails be both a lighthearted comedy and a dark farce. And some of the “gags” just don’t work and add nothing to the movie, such as a joke about Sandrene’s father Bob pressuring vegan Tucker to eat some bison beef jerky.

Supporting characters such as Fargo theater actress Mackenzie Billingham (played by Rachel Matthews) and Jack’s police captain mother Pauline Mikkelsen (played by Carolyn Michelle Smith) are very underwritten and are only used as plot devices to drop some surprises on the Tankhouse group. Although the ending of “Tankhouse” does not take a completely predictable route, it’s still too little, too late. “Tankhouse” might be trying to get the type of cult-audience status of director Christopher Guest’s classic 1996 community theater mockumentary “Waiting for Guffman,” but “Tankhouse” lacks the wit and the charm to gain a notable cult following.

Vertical Entertainment released “Tankhouse” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 13, 2022.

Review: ‘The Tender Bar,’ starring Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Christopher Lloyd and Lily Rabe

December 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan in “The Tender Bar” (Photo by Claire Folger/Amazon Content Services)

“The Tender Bar”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1972 to the mid-1980s, in Manhasset, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; and New York City, the dramatic film “The Tender Bar” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on true events, a boy raised by his single mother in a working-class household is influenced by her brother to take risks in life, as the boy grows up and goes on to attend Yale University and work as a journalist for The New York Times.

Culture Audience: “The Tender Bar” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ben Affleck, director George Clooney (who does not appear in the movie) and predictable coming-of-age stories.

Lily Rabe and Daniel Ranieri in “The Tender Bar” (Photo by Claire Folger/Amazon Content Services)

Even though Ben Affleck gets top billing in the dramatic film “The Tender Bar,” he’s not in the movie as much the “The Tender Bar” trailers and other marketing materials would leave audiences to believe. And the movie isn’t as compelling as it first seems. Although the acting in “The Tender Bar” is very good, ultimately the direction by George Clooney and screenwriting by William Monaghan are underwhelming, considering that Clooney and Monaghan are both Oscar-winning filmmakers. There’s a very “been there, done that” tone to this coming-of-age story that retreads a lot of familiar territory about young men who are aspiring writers.

“The Tender Bar” is based on J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name. It’s yet another story about someone from suburban, working-class roots who dreams of moving to a big city to achieve fame and possibly fortune in a chosen profession. In a movie like this, the eager young person predictably has a mentor who is a tough taskmaster or a mentor who is a rule-breaking free spirit. The mentor in the “The Tender Bar” is the latter stereotype.

A major problem with the movie version of “The Tender Bar” is that there are big gaps in the life that is presented of the movie’s protagonist, whose name is J.R. McGuire. A running “joke” in the movie is that J.R. keeps having to answer this question: “What does ‘J.R.’ stand for?” It’s a question he can’t really answer because, as far as he knows, J.R. is his first name on his birth certificate. In the movie, J.R. is depicted as two very different personalities (as a child and as a young adult) that are such a contrast to each other, it throws the movie off-balance, and the movie never really recovers from it.

In the first third of the movie, it’s 1972, and J.R. is a 9-year-old boy (played by Daniel Ranieri), who has moved with his single mother (played by Lily Rabe) back into her parents’ cramped house in Manhasset, New York. J.R.’s mother is having financial problems and can’t afford to live anywhere else. J.R.’s mother is embarrassed that she’s had to move back in with her parents (played by Christopher Lloyd and Sondra James), who all do not have names in the movie.

J.R.’s father abandoned J.R.’s mother and J.R. when J.R. was too young to remember him. This deadbeat dad is a radio DJ named Johnny Michaels (played by Max Martini), who has the on-air nickname The Voice. Even though Johnny still lives in the area, he hasn’t been in J.R.’s life, and J.R.’s mother wants to keep it that way. However, J.R. still ardently listens to his father on the radio, which is J.R.’s way of trying to get to know his father. In the movie, J.R.’s childhood is depicted from when he was 9 to about 11 years old.

J.R. is a bubbly and inquisitive child who loves to read. From a child’s perspective, he doesn’t see the move to his grandparents’ home as depressing. Just the opposite: J.R. meets a lot of relatives (aunts, uncles and cousins), and he’s happy to feel like he’s part of this big family. An unseen, middle-aged adult J.R. (voiced by Ron Livingston) says in hindsight voiceover narration how he felt being around so many family members: “I loved it.”

J.R.’s mother, who obviously wanted to move away from her family, isn’t happy about this change in her living situation. She thinks of herself as a “failure” for having to move back in with her parents. J.R.’s mother tries to hide her sadness from J.R, but he’s too smart not to notice.

There are underlying reasons why she was so reluctant to move back in with her parents, but they are only alluded to in the movie. She hints at those reasons when she tells J.R. about her curmudgeonly father: “Grandpa resents taking care of the family.” As for J.R.’s father, she comments: “Your father has never taken care of anyone at all.”

There are a few tender family moments as J.R.’s mother and her father take some steps in mending their fractured relationship. J.R. and his grandfather also have some moments together where they strengthen their family bond. However, the movie wants to focus on another adult member of the family to be the main catalyst for what happens to J.R.

One of the family members J.R. meets during this stressful time in his mother’s life is her older brother Charlie (played by Affleck), a bachelor who owns a local pub called Dickens. Charlie is not very educated, but he knows a lot about hard knocks in life, and he ends up being J.R.’s mentor/confidant. As an adult J.R. says in a narration voiceover: “When you’re 11 years old, you want [someone like] an Uncle Charlie.”

Meanwhile, J.R.’s father Johnny tries to get to know J.R. by promising to take him to a baseball game. But those plans go awry when J.R.’s mother has Johnny arrested for non-payment of child support while Johnny is on the air at his radio job. After getting out on bail, Johnny flees the state and threatens to kill J.R.’s mother during a menacing phone call. It’s the first sign that Johnny has a very mean streak and a violent mentality.

During this turmoil, Charlie becomes closer to J.R. and becomes almost like a father figure to him. The name of the Dickens bar is inspired by author Charles Dickens, so the bar is decorated with books on shelves, just like a library. Even though he’s underage, J.R. is allowed inside the bar. He’s so fascinated with the books, J.R. asks Charlie if he can read them. Charlie says yes. And an adult J.R. says in a narrator voiceover, “In that moment, I wanted to be a writer.”

J.R.’s mother would prefer that J.R. become a lawyer. She also drills into him that she really wants J.R. to graduate from Yale University or Harvard University. The family can’t afford to pay for tuition to an elite university, so J.R. hopes to get an academic scholarship. “The Tender Bar” doesn’t bother to show J.R. doing a lot of studying because the point of the movie is that J.R. got his real childhood education about life from his uncle Charlie.

“The Tender Bar” has a meandering quality to it where nothing particularly interesting happens during Charlie’s “mentorship” of J.R. As a child, J.R. tags along with hard-drinking Charlie and some of his party pals, who have nicknames like Bobo (played by Michael Braun) and Chief (played by Max Casella), where the adults get up to mostly harmless drunken mischief. Charlie also teaches J.R. how to drive long before J.R. is legally able to do so.

Charlie, who’s also a bartender at Dickens, lets J.R. watch Charlie do his job, where J.R. observes how adults act in a bar. Charlie doesn’t treat J.R. like a silly kid who’s a nuisance but as a person who needs guidance on some of life’s realities. At one point, Johnny comes back into the picture, and he has a violent confrontation with Charlie.

The rest of the movie then abruptly switches to J.R.’s life when he was in his late teens and early 20s. It’s here where “The Tender Bar” really starts to drag. Gone is the cheerful tyke who radiated positive energy and openness. The young adult J.R. (played by Tye Sheridan) is mopey, angsty, and has lost a lot of his charming curiosity about life.

This big change in J.R.’s personality is never explained. It’s more than just the normal coming-of-age growing pains. A lot of it has to do with the casting of Sheridan as the young adult J.R., because Sheridan tends to play brooding characters. That’s not to say that J.R. should be an eternally upbeat character, but the zest for life that he had as a child seems to have dwindled by the time the movie gets to J.R.’s life in his late teens and early 20s.

J.R. is only sure about one thing in his life: He wants to be a writer. Apparently, he thinks the only way to be a good writer is to be moody and miserable. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal that J.R. gets into Yale University, because about one-third of the movie (in the middle of the film) is about his time at Yale, where he ends up graduating in 1986. During his freshman year at Yale, J.R. has two roommates—Wesley (played by Rhenzy Feliz) and Jimmy (played by Ivan Leung)—who are bland characters that don’t add much to the story.

J.R. becomes immediately smitten with another Yale student named Sydney Lawson (played by Briana Middleton), who plays mind games with him during their entire on-again/off-again relationship. J.R. falls in love with Sydney, who treats J.R. as a “side piece,” because she always has a more serious, committed relationship with another boyfriend the entire time that she and J.R. are seeing each other. The movie wastes a lot of time on J.R. and Sydney’s topsy-turvy relationship, which ends up exactly how you think it’s going to end up.

There’s an intentionally awkward sequence where Sydney invites J.R. to meet her well-to-do and highly educated parents at the Lawson family home. (Mark Boyett plays Sydney’s father, and Quincy Tyler Bernstine plays Sydney’s mother, who don’t have first names in the movie.) The only purpose of this section of the movie is to show that J.R. feels self-conscious about his working-class background and that Sydney used this meeting as a test to see if J.R. could really fit into her world. It’s a world where people have a tendency to look down on working-class people from single-parent households.

Where exactly is Charlie during all of this drama in J.R.’s love life? Charlie only comes back into the picture whenever J.R. goes back to Manhasset to visit. And because Charlie is not an intellectual type who can skillfully guide J.R. on his writing ambitions, Charlie’s mentorship seems to be less impactful on J.R. as an adult, compared to when J.R. was a child. During the entire story, Charlie seems incapable of having a loving and committed relationship that lasts, so he’s not exactly the best person to give advice to J.R. about J.R.’s love life.

As much as Sydney manipulates J.R. by toying with his heart, the one sincerely good influence that she has on J.R. is that Sydney is the one (not Charlie) who encourages J.R. to apply for a job at The New York Times. J.R. is a talented writer, but he’s often plagued by self-doubt over his abilities. The rest of the movie is a bit of a slog in showing J.R.’s experience as a junior-level writer at The New York Times, while he still struggles with his love for Sydney.

“The Tender Bar” had potential to be a lot more engaging if it didn’t take up so much time on J.R.’s repetitive and predictable love affair with Sydney, the person who preoccupies most of his thoughts during his young-adult life that’s shown in the movie. The relationship between J.R. and his uncle Charlie, which is being marketed as the heart of “The Tender Bar,” is too often sidelined by showing what happens when J.R. goes to Yale and gets caught up in a bad romance.

It’s also a shaky premise for this movie to even put Charlie up on a “role model” pedestal in the first place, because he certainly doesn’t emotionally mature much during the approximately 14 or 15 years that this movie takes place. When J.R. moves away to go to Yale, Charlie is a drunk who acts like he’s a party guy in his 20s. When J.R. goes back to visit, middle-aged Charlie still has essentially the same lifestyle and mindset. If Charlie has any talent at anything, the movie never reveals what it is.

And that leaves audiences wondering, “What’s so great about Charlie?” It’s nice that Charlie provided emotional support for J.R. when J.R. needed a father figure as a kid. But by the time the movie ends, it’s obvious that between Charlie and J.R., only one of them has become a “grown-up” by gaining true wisdom from life experiences and by turning a talent into a career.

Amazon Studios released “The Tender Bar” in select U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021, with a wider release on December 22, 2021. Prime Video will premiere “The Tender Bar” on January 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Nobody’ (2021), starring Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov and Christopher Lloyd

March 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

RZA, Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

“Nobody” (2021) 

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Nobody” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered husband and father becomes an angry, gun-toting vigilante who has Russian mobsters out to get him.

Culture Audience: “Nobody” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies filled with over-the-top fight scenes and deliberately satirical comedy.

Paisley Cadorath, Gage Munroe and Connie Nielsen in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

In a world filed with action films that take themselves too seriously, the cartoonishly violent “Nobody” wants to be like a court jester, by poking fun at the movie’s characters and the action genre overall. It’s a film that takes pleasure in having audiences witness an “everyday,” seemingly “normal” person transform into an ass-kicking heroic type who protects the vulnerable and the downtrodden. It’s definitely not a superhero movie, but it’s more like a vigilante dark comedy with messages about the dangers of underestimating people who look harmless.

“Nobody” might get some comparisons to the 2014 action film “John Wick” because it starts off with a home invasion that triggers the story’s protagonist on a path of violent revenge. There’s a cute pet in the story (a puppy in “John Wick” and a kitten in “Nobody”), and both movies have David Leitch as a producer. “Nobody” writer Kolstad is a writer for the “John Wick” movies. But that’s where the similarities end.

“Nobody” and “John Wick” have styles and characters that are very different from each other. And cute pets aren’t killed in “Nobody.” John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is a mysterious loner without a family, while “Nobody” protagonist Hutch Mansell (played by Bob Odenkirk) is a husband and father. “John Wick” movies have a more sinister tone than “Nobody,” and the John Wick character has a more typical image of someone who’s ready for physical combat.

Directed by Ilya Naishuller and written by Derek Kolstad, “Nobody” actually taps into a similar mentality that Michael Douglas’ protagonist character had in the 1993 crime thriller “Falling Down.” Just like in “Falling Down,” the premise of “Nobody” is about an apparently law-abiding citizen whose pent-up anger at being underappreciated and ignored eventually explodes into a violent rampage against people he thinks are being bullies. “Nobody” takes a much more comedic route than “Falling Down,” but both films are commentaries on how seemingly respectable American men can be pushed over the edge and use self-defense or vigilantism as justification for their violence.

“Nobody” opens with a scene of Hutch sitting at a table in an interrogation room. Seated across from him are two unnamed law enforcement detectives (played by Kristen Harris and Erik Athavale). Hutch is bloodied, bruised and shows signs of other physical injuries. He’s smoking a cigarette, and he brings out a kitten out from underneath his jacket.

The female detective looks at Hutch and asks him suspiciously, “Who the fuck are you?” And then the screen cuts to the title of the movie “Nobody.” How did Hutch end up in this interrogation room? The rest of the film is a flashback showing what happened.

It all started when Hutch and his family became victims of a home invasion robbery, late one night. The robbers are husband and wife Luis Martin (played by Edsson Morales) and Lupita Martin (played by Humberly González), who wear masks and have guns while committing the crime. It’s never revealed why they targeted the Mansell household, but Hutch is the first to notice the burglars in the house, which is an unnamed U.S. city. (“Nobody” was actually filmed in the Canadian city of Winnipeg.)

Hutch lives in the home with his wife Rebecca, nicknamed Becca (played by Connie Nielsen), who’s a successful real-estate agent; their son Blake (played by Gage Munroe), who’s about 13 or 14 years old; and their daughter Abby (played by Paisley Cadorath), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Blake also hears the intruders, but he lets his father go out in the living room to investigate. Hutch brings a golf club with him for protection.

Sure enough, Hutch is confronted by the robbers. Lupita sees some cash and loose change in a bowl in the living room and scolds Hutch for not having more cash in the house. Hutch replies, “I use a debit card.” She then demands that Hutch give her the watch that he’s wearing.

Just as she’s about to take Hutch’s wedding ring, Blake leaps from upstairs and tackles Luis. Blake and Luis get into a fight, while Hutch is about to hit Luis with the golf club. But Lupita aims the gun toward Blake, and Hutch tells Blake to back off of the robbers. Just then, Becca sees the commotion from the top of the stairs and tells the robbers to take anything they want.

But the robbers have had enough of this bungled home invasion and they run away. They’ve stolen about $20 in cash and Abby’s kitty-cat bracelet that were in the bowl in the living room. And they’ve also stolen the family’s sense of trust and safety in their own home.

When the police arrive to investigate, the cop asking the questions expresses surprised disappointment that Hutch didn’t do enough to stop the robbers. Blake shows some resentment toward Hutch because Blake feels that he and Hutch would’ve won in the fight against the criminals. And the end result is that Hutch is made to feel like he was a wimp who made the wrong decisions during the home invasion.

During the attack, Hutch noticed some big clues that might be helpful to the investigation. The female robber had a distinctive tattoo of a bird on her wrist. And her gun was an old Smith & Wesson .38 special. And when the shock of the home invasion wears off, Hutch remembers that this robber’s gun was actually empty. And knowing this makes Hutch feel even more like he wasn’t man enough to protect his family.

The next day, a neighbor named Jim (played by Paul Essiembre), who lives next door to the Mansells, tells Hutch: “I heard you had some excitement last night. Man, I wish they [the robbers] could’ve picked my place. I could’ve used the exercise.”

Jim then shows off the 1972 Dodge Challenger that he inherited from his dead father. The car is in tip-top shape. And it’s at this point in the movie that you know that this car is going to be in a chase scene.

The early parts of “Nobody” have a series repetitive montages to show that Hutch’s monotonous “daily grind” life has made him bored and unhappy. He works as an accountant at a dull office job at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., which is owned by his father-in-law Eddie Williams (played by Michael Ironside), who is preparing to retire sometime in the near future. Hutch has offered to buy the business, but Eddie has said no because he tells Hutch that Hutch’s monetary offer isn’t good enough.

Instead, Eddie said he’ll probably pass on the business to Eddie’s son Charlie (Billy MacLellan), a boorish lunkhead who taunts Eddie about the home invasion by pointing a gun to Eddie’s head when they’re at work together. Charlie then gives the gun to Hutch and tells him in a condescending voice, “Keep my sister safe, bro.” Hutch reluctantly takes the gun.

When Hutch exercises outside, he can see his wife Becca’s enlarged image in her real-estate ad at a nearby bus stop. Because of this ad, she literally overshadows him while Hutch works out. And it’s not said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied that Becca makes more money than Hutch does. It’s shown later in the movie that Hutch and Becca’s marriage has lost its passion and romance.

And when Blake says he has to do a school report on a military veteran, he asks Hutch if he could interview him for the assignment. Hutch replies that he was an auditor in the military, so he was “kind of a nobody. That makes for a pretty dry story.” Becca suggest that Blake interview her brother Charlie instead, since Charlie was “a real soldier.”

As soon as Becca says that she apologizes to Hutch, who looks like he’s used to these backhanded insults. Hutch then suggests that Blake interview Hutch’s father, “who saw some real [combat] action.” Hutch’s father David (played by Christopher Lloyd) is currently living in a nursing home.

With Hutch feeling powerless and emasculated in his own home, the only person he can turn to for advice is someone named Harry (played by RZA), who is in hiding for reasons that are explained later in the movie. It’s also revealed later why Harry and Hutch know each other. Until Harry appears in person (it’s not spoiler information, since it’s in the movie’s trailer), Harry is just a voice that Hutch communicates with over a stereo radio.

Harry can sense that this home invasion has triggered something dangerous in Hutch. Harry advises Hutch: “I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t do nothing stupid. You hear me?”

But it’s too late. Through a series of events, Hutch finds out the identities of the two home invasion robbers. It sets off several violent encounters, as Hutch goes into full vigilante mode. One such incident is when he’s on a city bus and notices that five young thugs have surrounded a teenage girl, with the intent to harass her.

They are the only passengers on the bus. Hutch calmly makes the driver stay outside the bus, and then he completely goes off the thugs in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. It’s the type of fight scene that’s completely unrealistic, but it’s entertaining for people who like watching outlandish stunts.

Throughout the movie, Hutch experiences the type of injuries that would land people in a hospital emergency room, but he’s able to walk away with just some grimaces and some heavy limping. Because this movie is intended to be a dark comedy, these far-fetched fight scenes are very slapstick. However, viewers need to have a high tolerance for bloody violence to enjoy this movie.

One of the thugs who gets badly injured by Hutch during the bus battle is named Teddy Kuznetsovj (played by Aleksandr Pal), whose injuries include brain damage and possible permanent paralysis. Teddy just happens to be the younger brother of a demented Russian mobster named Yulian Kuznetsov (played by Alexey Serebryakov), so you know what that means. Yulian finds out that Hutch s responsible for Teddy’s near-fatal injuries and vows to get revenge.

Yulian provides security for a Russian organization called Obshak, which houses a fortune worth millions. So there’s big money at stake in this crime saga. Yulian’s has several goons helping him track down Hutch. Among these accomplices is Yulian’s half-Russian, half-Ethiopian right-hand man Pavel (played by Araya Mengesha), whom Yulian viciously defends when some racist gangsters try to degrade Pavel for not being white.

As an example of some of the goofy quirks in this movie, Yulian likes getting on stage and performing to corny dance-pop music. There’s a scene of Yulian at his favorite nightclub Malina, which is the type of gaudy and tacky nightspot where you might see wannabe Eurovision Song Contest performers. Yulian leaps on stage with one of the singers and starts dancing as if he’s the star of the show.

Another sight gag in the film is during a big shootout at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., Hutch is near a wall sign that that reads, “This department has worked 204 days without lost time accident. The best previous record was 91 days. Do your part.” The number 204 is on a part of the sign that is erasable. In the middle of the melee, Hutch takes his elbow and erases the number 204, to indicate that the office isn’t a safe space anymore.

Even with these touches of comedy, the main attraction for “Nobody” remains the action. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t let up on its adrenaline pace. And the filmmakers understand that the spectacle of Hutch being a one-man combat machine isn’t enough, so there are more people who eventually join Hutch in his fight against Yulian and his thugs. The choreography and stunts in the fight scenes are much better than the movie’s visual effects. (For example, there’s a scene with a massive fire where the flames look very fake.)

Odenkirk carries the movie with an entertaining flair as Hutch, who never really loses his humanity underneath all of his rage. If viewers are wondering how Hutch is able to have such masterful fighting skills, it’s explained in the movie. The explanation isn’t surprising in the least, since there were many clues that Hutch isn’t as “average” as he first appears to be. The ending of “Nobody” is a clear indication that the filmmakers want this movie’s story to continue. And based on all the crowd-pleasing aspects of this movie, there’s a high likelihood that “Nobody” won’t be the last time that viewers will see Hutch Mansell.

Universal Pictures released “Nobody” in U.S. cinemas on March 26, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is April 16, 2021.

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