Nobel Son

Nobel Son

2007, R, 102 min. Directed by Randall Miller. Starring Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, Danny DeVito, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson.

Relentless swooshes, boings, and clangs annoyingly punctuate every scene of Nobel Son, and in between all these sound effects, there's an abundance of very bad dialogue. The noisiness goes hand in hand with the frenetic camerawork – superfast pans, sudden accelerations, random angles – in the attempt to make the case that this movie is entertaining. But actually, it's just a mess, and somewhere underneath the rubble of squeal-inducing violence and baffling double-crosses lie the ashes of films such as Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It would seem that co-writer/director Miller had his sights set on Quentin Tarantino's well-polished idiosyncrasy and Guy Ritchie's over-the-top black comedy, but both tonalities remain beyond Miller's reach. In Nobel Son, an unlikable chemistry professor, Eli Michaelson (Rickman), wins a Nobel Prize, which prompts the kidnapping of his son, Barkley (Greenburg), who's so bland he doesn't merit an adjective other than "twentysomething." The ransom is the $2 million in Nobel money, which, naturally, in a movie like this, changes hands numerous times. Most of the characters are defined by a single trait, including the Michaelsons' garage-apartment renter, Gastner (DeVito). We're told again and again that he's obsessive-compulsive. So if he says, "I always leave for work at 10:09," one more time, will it finally be funny? No. Other characters amount to nothing more than jumbles of incomprehensible motivation. Kidnapper Thaddeus (Hatosy) morphs from calculating and vengeful to ardent and gullible. Well, at least he consistently drives a string of Mini Coopers. That's cute and quirky, isn't it? Even the dependable Rickman can't find his footing here. As he lamely hams it up, you can see him trying to rally himself and then deciding it's not worth the effort. Interestingly, Steenburgen as Eli's wife, Sarah, and Pullman as a sweet police detective manage to survive with their dignity mostly intact. It's as if they're in a movie that's clever and makes sense. But for hours after watching Nobel Son, I was plagued with "Huh?" moments, causing me to revisit the film in my mind, a truly baleful process – at which point I eagerly welcomed one of the film's repetitive sound effects: that of screeching to a halt.

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Nobel Son, Randall Miller, Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, Danny DeVito, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson

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