The same gang that gave us that clumsy but charming wine movie, Bottle Shock, got together lock, stock, and (ouch!) barrel and decided to make what the PR folks call a psychological thriller. You and I, however, might call this new genre cinema terrible. At least Bottle Shock had at its core a reasonable (and largely true) story held thinly together by two good actors who appear in Nobel Son as well. But the supporting cast included actors so far over their heads and drowning you left the theater gasping for air.
Bottle Shock refugees Rickman (Eli Michaelson), Bill Pullman (Detective Max Mariner), and Director Randall Miller have added Mary Steenburgen (Sarah Michaelson), Ted Danson (Harvey Parish), and Danny DeVito (Gastner) to the ensemble. The two youthful add-ons who splash about futilely are Bryan Greenberg and his on-screen half-brother Shawn Hatosy.
So, imagine pitching this screenplay to producers trying to pry open their checkbooks: OK, let's start with a father who wins a Nobel Prize that he doesn't deserve; he is a philanderer, and his wife is a forensic psychiatrist; their son, Barkley, a PhD student writing his thesis on the upside of cannibalism, is kidnapped by his psychopath half brother to get the two million dollars which accompanies the Nobel Prize. In a nutshell, that's it. Ready to write your check? Oh, and we'll throw in some very contrived plot twists late in the movie.
As implausible as the story is, the cinematography does warrant mention. It is as if director Miller took his cinematographer aside, grabbed him by the lapels, and pleaded with him to do something to resuscitate the story. Using his camera like electrical paddles for a heart patient, the camera tries and fails to jump-start this film, to breathe life into this anemic story. There are a series of jumps and film speed increases that cause you to scratch your head or look at your watch or both.
But I don't want to ignore the techno-heavy soundtrack, authored largely by Paul Oakenfold. I found it so assaulting and harsh, especially during the magical first thirty minutes, my feet literally started to twitch toward the exit. Perhaps this was an overreaction, but soon after I saw a couple jubilantly leaving the theater, I figured maybe I wasn't alone in this opinion. The best I can say is that there is nothing tentative about either cinematography or sound in this movie.
I've always wondered, even if screenplays or compensation seduces actors into taking roles, if there isn't a moment in the course of making a terrible movie when deep in their hearts they recognize what they're about to send out into the world. If there was such a moment making Nobel Son, then this group couldn't run fast enough to get to their next project.
Nobel Son ★✩✩✩✩
Starring: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenburg, Mary Steenburgen, Danny DeVito and Ted Danson. Directed by Randall Miller.