by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Alan Rickman as ELI MICHAELSON
Bryan Greenberg as BARKLEY MICHAELSON
Shawn Hatosy as THADDEUS JAMES
Mary Steenburgen as SARAH MICHAELSON
Bill Pullman as DET. MAX MARINER
Eliza Dushku as CITY HALL
Danny DeVito as GEORGE GASTNER
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Randall Miller
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Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is a bitter, philandering chemistry professor who just won the Nobel Prize. Continuing his lifelong bad attitude, he rubs the award in the faces of everyone – from his colleagues to his family. When his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is kidnapped and held for ransom in the amount of Eli’s Nobel Prize earnings, the family shows their true colors. Barkley gets closer to the kidnappers than he’d like, and he soon finds himself in an even more dangerous game than a simple kidnapping.
WHAT I LIKED
The premise of “Nobel Son” is a pretty good one. I can imagine how it came across rather well in a pitch meeting. In some ways, it reminds me of the non-spoof comedy classic “Ruthless People” from Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker. The subject matter of a person who doesn’t particularly want to pay a ransom for a “loved one” is ripe for dark humor.
There is also a fine cast behind this movie, which is impressive considering the small-budget nature of the film. Alan Rickman is great in almost everything he does, and seeing him with a harder edge (rather than his normal cantankerous self we see in everything from “Die Hard” to “Bottle Shock”) is a welcome sight.
Other good performances come from Mary Steenburgen as the mother who wants to pay the ransom and Eliza Dushku as the crazy hot, yet a little too crazy, potential girlfriend for Barkley. Danny DeVito also has a nice little role in this movie (and decidedly different than his role in the aforementioned “Ruthless People”), although he is a bit underutilized in the film.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There was a surprising amount of buzz that surrounded “Nobel Son” prior to its release, and then it tanked at the box office and suffered some pretty harsh reviews. I can understand a lot of this because of the movie’s decision to go too dark. There’s nothing wrong with a good dark comedy, but this film moved out of the comedy nature and into total darkness, especially at the end.
The writing is hopelessly obtuse, and it seems that the writer was just trying to pull a fast one on the audience. He pats himself on the back throughout the special features and brags about how clever and creative he was, but the movie ends up twisting back on itself and becoming hard to understand. Character logic falls apart, and if you think through the final scenes, you’ll realize that the set-up doesn’t even make sense.
Plus, there’s strange backstories to the characters, including Bryan Greenberg’s character being chronically broke and writing a thesis on cannibalism, which people seem to misinterpret as him being involved in cannibalism. I suppose the filmmakers though that if you write about something, you must subscribe to that practice. Does that mean Mary Shelly created a living being from dead bodies? I suppose so.
While Rickman, Steenbergen, DeVito and Dushku served up excellent performances, they were unfortunately balanced into mediocrity by Bryan Greenberg and Bill Pullman. I always thought that I didn’t like “October Road” the series, but perhaps I just don’t like Greenberg as an actor. He just made my teeth hurt with his stilted delivery and passionless face. At least Pullman is capable of a better acting job, but I assume he was just paying the rent with this film.
There’s a decent amount of special features which bodes well for anyone watching the DVD. Randall Miller Jody Savin, Bryan Greenberg, Mike Ozier and Eliza Dushku lend their voices to a commentary tack. There’s also a handful of deleted scenes.
The behind-the-scenes featurette is interesting, although very self-congratulatory. I think perhaps the writer edited this piece together.
Trailers round out the rest of the features, with both a redband and theatrical trailer of the film. Other trailers include MGM/FOX releases “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” “Slumdog Millionaire’ and “Choke.”
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Fans of dark – really dark – comedies.