Monday, August 2, 2010

NOBEL SON (2007)

Starring: Alan Rickman, Mary Steenburgen, Danny DeVito, Bill Pullman & Eliza Dushku
Director: Randall Miller

Perhaps one of the greatest things about being a movie lover is running across one of those rare, undiscovered gems -- the twisting thriller with the audacity to demand that you actually use your brain to solve the mystery, or the outrageous comedy that was just a bit ahead of its time and didn't find an audience until it was long gone from theaters. Nobel Son is none of those things.

Philandering chemistry professor and recent Nobel prize winner Eli Michaelson (Rickman) is in Stockholm to collect his award when he and his wife, Sarah (Steenburgen), receive word that their son, Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) -- a Game Boy-obsessed college student writing his Ph.D. thesis on cannibalism -- has been kidnapped. If they ever hope to see Barkley alive again, Eli and Sarah are to drop two million dollars in unmarked bills in the trunk of a display car at a local shopping mall. Later, after the drop has been made, it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't your typical kidnapping. As the mystery deepens and spacey detective Max Mariner (Pullman) struggles to pinpoint a suspect, the fact that Eli was hated by nearly everyone he ever met leads the detective to suspect everyone from the prickly professor's own son to a flaky local artist who goes by the name City Hall (Dushku).

Directed like the coked-up, sopping wet fever dream of an ADHD film student who flushed all of his Ritalin, Nobel Son is hands-down one of the most obnoxious movies in recent memory. In the opening minutes, Paul oakenfold's throbbing, energetic techno score seems like exactly the kind of movie glue that might just hold this mess together and keep it moving. Then the realization sets in that it never goes away -- even in the dialogue scenes -- at which point it becomes not just distracting, but grotesquely overbearing. As if an entire movie set to 120 bpm wasn't annoying enough (perhaps, like being handed special glasses when you purchase a ticket to a 3-D film, audiences going to see Nobel Son should be given a pacifier and a glow stick before entering the theater), the fact that a talented cast is given little to do as the camera whooshes, swooshes, and cranes around them makes the entire experience truly frustrating. Of all of these actors, Rickman is given the most to do as the cruel, pompous laureate whose "genius side of the brain is so big that it swallowed up the civilized side," and while Steenburgen and Pullman have one or two fun character beats, the rest of the cast seems to pop in for their quirky cameos before vanishing almost as quickly as they appeared.

If a thriller is going to be "clever," it pays for the filmmakers to exercise a little restraint so the audience can have some room to reflect on the story as it twists and turns to a satisfying conclusion. Nobel Son does the exact opposite, straining to force cleverness where there is none, and then attempting to dazzle by resorting to the sort of cinematic tricks that even a coked-up, hyperactive film student would recognize as cliché. (110 mins.)

My Rating: *1/2

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