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Image: "Nobel Son"
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Alan Rickman, right, plays an obnoxious academic who wins the Nobel Prize and Mary Steenburgen plays his wife in “Nobel Son.”
By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/3/2008 12:32:03 PM ET 2008-12-03T17:32:03
Review

Just in time for year-end “worst movie” lists comes “Nobel Son,” a movie far too confident in its own cleverness and charm, two elements it lacks in abundance.

Here are several rules this idiotic time-waster violates:

No. 1: If you’re going to have a convoluted conspiracy/caper/plot at the heart of your story, it should hold up to the tiniest amount of scrutiny. By the time Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) realizes that he’s the victim of the machinations of the sultry City Hall (Eliza Dushku) and the conniving Thaddeus (Shawn Hatosy), I had already come up with at least three ways that this allegedly diabolical frame-up made no sense whatsoever and how it could be explained to the police in about two sentences.

No. 2: If the names and attributes of characters are going to appear written on-screen, it’s annoying when someone later speaks those attributes out loud. The word “autodidact” appears on screen with Thaddeus’ name when he shows up in the movie; a few scenes later, he tells someone else that he’s an autodidact. Similarly, Thaddeus calls Gastner (Danny DeVito) a “recovering obsessive-compulsive,” even though the audience was informed of this fact when the character first appeared. Note to screenwriters Randall Miller (who also directed) and Jody Savin: These descriptive terms were irksome enough the first time; repeating them is like biting the inside of your cheek and then accidentally biting the same spot again later.

No. 3: If you were lucky enough to ensnare talented actors like Alan Rickman (as an obnoxious academic who wins the Nobel Prize), Mary Steenburgen (as Rickman’s oft-cuckolded wife), Bill Pullman, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson, Hatosy and Dushku, write a script in which they can play characters who resemble human beings, the kind who say interesting things and have something to do.

“Nobel Son” is so utterly idiotic, that I can’t even bring myself to explain the plot. It basically boils down to obnoxious Barkley trying to finish his thesis when his stentorian father Eli wins the Nobel. The night before he’s supposed to join his parents on a flight to Stockholm, Barkley has a tryst with poet City, but then winds up getting kidnapped by Thaddeus, who has his own ax to grind with Eli. Ransom demands, double-crosses, “shocking” revelations and comeuppances follow, but none of it is remotely interesting.

“Nobel Son” was one of my most unpleasant filmgoing experiences of 2008 (and in a year like this, that’s saying something). With the economy in the crapper, two wars being waged abroad and a new Britney Spears album on the charts, there’s already enough strife in this world. Spare yourself the added injury of “Nobel Son.”

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