It didn't take long for Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas novels to hook me. Literally within a couple of pages he had established this wonderfully weird concoction, an offbeat paranormal mystery and hard-boiled gumshoe story with a protagonist as odd as his name. Through a series of mostly compelling adventures Koontz has walked a very fine balance, one where inherent quirk of the premise must often give way to darkness of a brutal nature. See, Odd Thomas can see the lingering spirits of the dead, and uses that ability to avenge their deaths. It's not the sort of tone one would expect an unabashed tentpole director like Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) to be able to pull off, and while it's far from perfect, fans of Koontz's titular hero will be more than happy.
To Sommers' credit he sticks with what he knows, picking up the face and sprucing up Koontz's story, so that the film resembles an episode of dearly-departed series, Dead Like Me. It's a change that works better than one would think, mainly due to a confident star in Anton Yelchin and the peculiarity of the lead character. Odd, his parents meant to name him Todd but forgot the 'T', is a seemingly normal fry cook living in Pico Mundo, Nevada where there are all sorts of weird occurrences he's more than equipped to handle. More than just "seeing dead people", Odd can see the nastiest secrets murderers try to hide, and he can even glimpse future horrors before they happen in an effort to stop them.
At a brisk 90 minutes, Sommers wastes no time introducing us to Odd's world, with extensive narration cutting down on the massive amounts of exposition that occasionally bog down Koontz's books. More casual viewers will appreciate the steady presence of Willem Dafoe as town sheriff Wyatt Porter, who shares in Odd's secret. His greatest source of back-up is his feisty and loyal girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn (Addison Timlin), and together they have a little Nick & Norah Charles thing goin' on as they try to decipher the latest weirdness around town. A carnival fortune predicted they were "destined to be together forever", and it's a fate constantly put to the test by crazy cultists, ethereal death demons known as bodachs, and gun-toting madmen.
Koontz's original story doesn't call for a lot of huge set pieces, but what few there are Sommers brings his big studio muscle to at least give them a nice polish. The bodachs are appropriately sinewy and slithery, but you can tell that there's been some significant trimming during the explosive finale. Mostly the budgetary constraints are a minor bump that can be easily overlooked thanks to Yelchin, who makes for a more dashing hero than Odd Thomas was ever designed to be. It works in this context, though, and he's even better when bantering back-and-forth with Timlin. It's safe to say that everything about their relationship in the novels is faithfully recreated here, including the stuff that isn't so much fun. Sommers, who adapted the screenplay himself, clearly has a passion for the material and Koontz's bizarre short order cook.
It's a shame there's been such a negative stigma attached to this film due to the months of legal wrangling that has kept it out of theaters indefinitely. Some will see that, Sommers' name and the fact that it's only available On Demand and take that as a reason to stay away. But fans of the book will be extremely happy, and those less familiar will find Odd Thomas to be a funny and endearing curiosity.