'Nobel' prizes a fast pace

Posted: December 05, 2008

A smart aleck-y kidnapping caper that whooshes around to a thumping electronic beat, Nobel Son offers quotes from Ogden Nash and Pat Benatar, deploys a highfalutin synonym for cannibalism (anthropophagy), offers a movie-long commercial for the Mini Cooper, and features a hot candlelit sex scene on an apartment roof.

It's not boring, even if it's too gimmicky for its own good.

Directed by Bottle Shock's Randall Miller, Nobel Son stars Alan Rickman, camping it up as the monstrous Eli Michaelson, an ill-mannered, arrogant college professor who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. A serial adulterer (currently getting it on with a student), Eli is pretty much insufferable. When his son, an anthropology Ph.D. candidate with $2.57 to his name, gets abducted on the day Eli and his forensic psychologist wife, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), are heading to Stockholm to pick up the Nobel and its $2 million prize, the father thinks it's a cheap prank. Then, a severed thumb arrives by courier, enclosed with a ransom note.

Riddled with contortionary twists and turns, and boasting a busy crew of characters with serious mental disorders, Nobel Son combines the grisly and the glib. Its plot (you'll need some diagram paper) pivots around an elaborately staged ransom drop and getaway at a So-Cal mall.

Shawn Hatosy has a key role as the embittered, brainy kidnapper. Eliza Dushku plays City Hall (yes, that's her name), a fragile soul with an aggressive sexual appetite. She's also a poet, with a noirish vocabulary and a penchant for paper-bag clown masks. Bill Pullman is the detective on the scene, Ted Danson a professor (hence the bow tie), and Danny DeVito a neighbor with an obsessive-compulsive disorder that plays into the perp's alibi.

Fans of Rickman will appreciate the actor's sneering mix of buffoonery and misanthropy, Steenburgen gives another of her playfully ironic turns, and Miller's direction allows for few, if any, lulls.

None of it really makes sense, but you can make the same argument for The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. Not that Nobel Son is anywhere close to being in that league.


Nobel Son **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Randall Miller.

With Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenburg, Shawn Hatosy, Bill Pullman, Mary Steenburgen, Eliza Dushku and Danny DeVito. Distributed by Freestyle Releasing.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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