||As he did with “Bottle Shock,” director Randall Miller gives Alan Rickman full rein to display his patented supercilious attitude in “Nobel Son.” But this time around, the vehicle isn’t a charming if uneven little comedy, but a stab at a darkly humorous caper picture, and even Rickman, playing Eli Michaelson, a super-arrogant and super-priapic chemistry professor whose already huge ego is further expanded by winning the Novel Prize, can’t save it; indeed, in the last reel he’s reduced to the ignominious state of being trussed up half-dressed and unkempt against a post. It’s just not a fitting use of his talent.
But then nobody in the promising cast is well served by the script by Miller and his wife, Jody Savin—not Mary Steenburgen as his long-suffering wife, or Bill Pullman as her police detective friend, or Freddy Rodriguez as a young patrolman, or Danny DeVito as the fellow who rents the Michaelsons’ upstairs apartment, or Ted Danson as Eli’s unsupportive dean.
And certainly not the younger players involved in the central kidnapping scheme at the center of things—Bryan Greenberg as Michaelson’s grad student son Barkley (working on a thesis on cannibalism, which you can be sure will come up as the plot unfolds), Eliza Dushku as the flaky poet he picks up and beds the night before the family’s set to fly to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony, or Shawn Hatosy as the wild-eyed fellow who abducts Barkley and demands the Nobel prize money as ransom, but who has deeper motives for his actions.
The plot of “Nobel Son” gets more and more convoluted and preposterous as it goes along, and far less fun. The big set-pieces, most notably the one involving a radio-controlled mini in a mall (in which one character’s most-touted expertise with Game Boy is employed) are nowhere near as clever as the makers hope. And the level of violence and gore is way too high for the picture to sustain a genially mean-spirited spirit.
Much of the fault lies not just in a script whose madcap contortions veer into sheer nastiness, but in Miller’s tone-deaf direction, which never finds a right balance between the cheerful cynicism and the gallows humor, and especially his frantically whiplash editing, which—in combination with Michael J. Ozier’s garish cinematography, turns the piece into a visual assault on the senses made all the worse by Paul Oakenfold’s relentlessly intrusive score.
Rickman wrings a few laughs in the first reel of “Nobel Son” from his trademark sneer and sarcastic delivery. But from here on, things are all downhill. This is a movie that, despite the title, will win no prizes.
And according to the credits it took no fewer that ten producers, co-producers and executive producers to make!