The academic world receives a nasty poke in “E = mc2” a trivial drama set at Oxford U. that revolves around a physicist equally concerned with his work and his sex life. Overly simplistic narrative and a lead actor who lacks the charm or skill to play a supposedly brilliant scientist put this British meller on the fast track to the tube and video.
Paul (Jeremy Piven), a young American scientist, and his wife, Claire (Kelli Williams), arrive at Oxford to pursue their respective careers. Paul is ambitiously working on completing Einstein’s final obsession, the conundrum of wave particle duality, but he loses the funding for his project when Dr. Mullins (James Villiers), his mentor and friend, is replaced by a new, much more rigid department head.
Selfishly obsessed with his dream, Paul neglects his marriage, failing to provide emotional support for his wife, who’s engaged in writing her doctoral thesis in anthropology; a constant bone of contention is that he has no time or interest to read her dissertation.
With his marriage on the rocks, Paul begins an affair with his young assistant, Lucy (Liza Walker), who happens to be the misunderstood — and later rebellious — daughter of the new chair.
Pic draws superficial parallels between Einstein’s life (and separation from his wife) and Paul’s, but the academic ambience lacks credibility for anyone even slightly familiar with this milieu.
A rousing, “Rocky”-like climax is laid on when Paul courageously appeals the university ruling to cut his funding; he defends his research project with an emotional speech. Unfortunately, Piven is unconvincing as a scientist, and it’s hard to comprehend what all the women see in him.
Pic is not badly directed or photographed, but most of the writing is schematic, and the characters behave in an overly predictable manner. The happy ending on all fronts, career and domestic, is shamelessly unwarranted.