Style reigns over substance in the twisty, gratuitous caper flick Nobel Son.
From the maker of the appealing Bottle Shock, Randall Miller, this picture has some of that cast, including Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Eliza Dushku.
Rickman has the supercilious, preening qualities going again as philandering Eli Michaelson, a university college professor who's just won the titular prize for his genius, or at least some theory on molecular interaction.
Miller's convoluted tale (which he co-wrote), filled with technotronic music, often seems like a three-ring circus, as laureate Michaelson's son, Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), working on his PhD in cannibalism is kidnapped. Voyeuristic Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy) is an autodidact and Dushku, a vampy poetess who goes by City Hall, seem to be into Miller's somewhat manic cinematic modus operandi.
From dad's point-of-view Barkley is an underachiever and Barkley is in the large group who despise his father, including some of the undergrads he beds. The call-waiting at the family residence isn't on their phone, so when dad and his forensic pathologist mom (Mary Steenbergen, in a larger part than Four Christmases) are in Stockholm to accept the prize, they don't believe him when he goes missing.
Early on, there is a thumb amputation and a beating, as one is into the motivations behind the desire to have Eli's seven-figure prize money. The cast, which includes Danny DeVito as a reformed compulsive obsessive green-thumb neighbor, Pullman as a cop longing for Eli's wife, and Ted Danson (briefly) as a college executive, aren't able to ennoble a movie that comes across as absurd and rather pretentious.
Though it is watchable, even as Steenbergen's loving mom gets to use her character's "CSI" skills. Yet, Rickman has the best lines, especially while traveling to Stockholm, or at the end in his classroom. The most intricate and gratifying scene involves the use of a rebuilt Mini-cooper in a mall around a construction zone that puts the authorities at a loss.
Nobel Son eventually slows down (a bit), but there's little wit (outside of Rickman), and the scheming is more tedious than insidious or clever. All the talk of anthropology and Eli's other "son" who becomes a tenant doesn't really manage a lot of interest before the final act wraps up too smoothly. It might have qualities of genius within it, but all the montages (with some frames sped up and slowed down) and camouflaging hardly qualifies it as noble and coherent.