‘Nobel Son’: Rickman wasted in empty action thriller

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:47pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There might be hope for a movie arranged around the character Alan Rickman plays in “Nobel Son”: an egotistical, philandering science professor who’s just won the Nobel Prize, an honor that makes him even more impossible to live with than he already was.

Unfortunately, “Nobel Son” sets up Rickman, then pushes him to the side of an increasingly far-fetched plot. A young crazy (Shawn Hatosy), claiming to be Rickman’s illegitimate son, kidnaps the legal son (Bryan Greenberg) and holds him for ransom.

This happens while Rickman and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) are in Stockholm collecting his prize. A cop (Bill Pullman) gets involved, too.

Since both kidnapper and victim are stock characters, the movie loses its sense of nasty fun when they take over. And there’s not much left for Rickman to save after that.

This is one of those movies that depend on an elaborate chain of events to go exactly a certain way, or everything falls apart. Not once, but twice — first for the kidnapper, then for his victim, after the tables turn.

That’s one reason to dislike the movie. Another is the incessant techno soundtrack, which sounds like somebody’s idea of how to juice up a film for the young folk.

It also wastes a bunch of people who could be doing better — Steenburgen, Pullman (repeating his puckish “Zero Effect” performance), Danny DeVito. It gives sultry Eliza Dushku a hotsy-totsy role, as an oversexed, pretentious poetess, and then leaves her off-screen for most of the picture. That strikes me as counterproductive.

The director is Randall Miller, who did the recent “Bottle Shock” and the excruciating “Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing &Charm School.” His movie is full of the kind of “style” that a lot of filmmakers throw at the screen in the hopes that it will approximate actual style. In this case, it’s just noise.

And so you wait around for Alan Rickman to pop up again, ladling on the smarmy charm and lying to his family and colleagues. (Another problem in plausibility: Steenburgen’s wife is far to smart to have put up with this guy’s nonsense all these years.) He’s in good form, and he shows you what might’ve happened to his villain from “Die Hard” if he’d gone into chemistry instead of German terrorism.

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