"Nobel Son" stars the great Alan Rickman, over-the-top and deliciously insufferable as a college chemistry professor who treats his rudeness to everyone, the graduate students he sleeps with and the Nobel Prize he's just won as nothing less than his due as a "superior intellect." He alone is worth the price of admission to this unnecessarily gruesome caper picture.
But there's also Mary Steenburgen as his forensic-pathologist (C.S.I.) professor-wife, Danny DeVito as an obsessive-compulsive neighbor and Bill Pullman as a cop who pines for the Nobel winner's wife.
The absurdly elaborate plot involving the kidnapping of the laureate's son is driven by filmmaker Randall Miller's attempt at an assaultive style. The younger players, including Bryan Greenberg (as Barkley, the son), Shawn Hatosy and the vampy Eliza Dushku, are up to it. But Miller, an indie filmmaker whose wine-loving "Bottle Shock" was one of the sleepers of the summer, trips himself up co-writing and directing this watchable misstep.
Son Barkley is among the legions who hate his dad, but is something of a screw-up. So when he goes missing on the day Dad and Mom fly off to Stockholm for Dad's moment of glory, it's not that unusual. When he turns up in the hands of a seemingly brilliant lone kidnapper (Hatosy), no one believes him.
A thumb has been hacked off in a grisly opening scene. The kidnapped kid had one night of passion with a scary-sexy slam poet (Dushku) before being beaten up and spirited off. Did he stage it himself to grab Dad's $2 million in prize money? The cops (Pullman and Ernie Hudson) seem so lost that Mom has to turn to her own forensic and deduction skills to find answers and unravel the mystery.
Miller used much of the same cast for "Bottle Shock," and while he struggles with many more plot threads here, the new film is utterly lacking the charm of the wine country movie. Montages set to loud electronic house music show us how this caper could come off - it involves disguises, scheming and easy-to-take-apart-and-rebuild Mini Coopers. However, the more montages Miller cuts in, the more details he adds, the sillier the scheme seems.
Rickman wins laughs in every scene, but the laughs outside of his orbit are few and far between. Explicit sex and gore ruin the tone, and the conclusion is so ridiculously pat and far-fetched that it torches much of the good will the film has heading into the home stretch. Good actors such as Rickman, Pullman and Dushku (all also in "Bottle Shock") should have their pick of good scripts, as should Steenburgen, Ted Danson (as an academic colleague) and DeVito.
Their names helped get this project financed and into theaters. But perhaps some of the money spent on Mini Coopers could have been diverted to a script doctor. Lacking the polish and coherence worthy of its cast, "Nobel Son" is no prize winner. *