Accusing “Nobel Son” of being over-the-top is like complaining the circus is too colorful. Flamboyance, in all its generic guises, at times seems to be the very raison d’etre behind Randall Miller’s kidnapping thriller. Least effectively, such ostentation yields Danny DeVito’s obsession-compulsion, strange character names and one-line backstories. Most prepossessingly, though, it flaunts Alan Rickman as a Nobel-winning scientist whose outrageous egomania lifts the pic far above the three-ring dog-and-pony-show. Uneven but enjoyably titillating black comedy should elate Rickman fans while pleasing aficionados of extra-flakey caper flicks.
Professor Eli Michaelson (Rickman) has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The endowment transforms the prof’s already insufferable narcissism into outright arrogance. For the rest of Michaelson clan, the Swedish coronation only adds insult to injury.
Helmer Miller and co-writer/wife Jody Savin, whose work (“Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School”) has tilted toward the sweet and sentimental, here throw themselves into twisted villainy with gusto. Even the good characters, like Mary Steenburgen’s Sarah, Rickman’s long-suffering wife by night and a forensic pathologist by day, harbor unexpected depths of deviousness.
Michaelson’s callow son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), sole offspring and bitter disappointment (having chosen the social sciences), is finishing up his thesis on cannibalism (when, we wonder, will the gag pay off?) and trying to subsist on a measly paternal stipend of $35 a week. After a date with a weirdo poetess named City Hall (the irresistibly sexy Eliza Dushku), he is kidnapped.
Enter Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy), abductor, mechanical genius and advanced chemistry autodidact, claiming to be Barkley’s illegitimate half-brother. Thaddeus alternately threatens and cajoles Barkley into joining him in his multimillion-dollar kidnap/extortion/revenge plot against their father.
With more story twists than a designer pretzel — including an anonymous amputated thumb and a gratuitous corpse in a bathtub — the adrenalin-fueled pic thankfully slows to a halt after only a few to many loop-de-loops.
Tech credits maintain the film’s momentum throughout, Paul Oakenfold and Mark Adler’s techno-beat rhythms pumping up the action with occasional breaks for irony. Michael Ozier’s multi-angled lensing favors colorfully expressionistic backdrops to highlight Miller’s boldly sardonic editing.