Prize Cast Comes Up Short In 'Nobel Son'

Alan Rickman as Eli Michaelson i

Prize dad: Nobel-winning chemist Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is too busy philandering to notice that his son has been kidnapped. Freestyle Releasing hide caption

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Alan Rickman as Eli Michaelson

Prize dad: Nobel-winning chemist Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is too busy philandering to notice that his son has been kidnapped.

Freestyle Releasing

Nobel Son

  • Director: Randall Miller
  • Genre: Crime Comedy
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated R for some graphic images, language and sexuality.

Mary Steenburgen as Sarah Michaelson i

Conveniently enough: Barkley's mother, Sarah Michaelson (Mary Steenburgen), is a renowned forensic psychologist. Freestyle Releasing hide caption

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Mary Steenburgen as Sarah Michaelson

Conveniently enough: Barkley's mother, Sarah Michaelson (Mary Steenburgen), is a renowned forensic psychologist.

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The Michaelsons are a mess. Dad's an arrogant jerk — a Nobel Prize-winning jerk, but a jerk nonetheless — while Mom is blitheringly supportive and Son is a whining Ph.D. candidate who can't seem to finish his thesis on cannibalism.

Doubtless, therein could hang a tale of filial conflict, even without a kidnapping to set them at each others' throats, but let it be noted that Nobel Son is nothing if not motivationally overstuffed.

Even subsidiary characters — a sultry depressed poet, a sad-sack detective, the moody son of a rival scientist — turn out to have all sorts of elaborate (if underexplained ties) to this family, along with a grudge or two.

Not that it's hard to come up with reasons to dislike the head of the clan. Nobelist chemistry professor Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) spends his every extracurricular moment chasing skirts and flattery, with little thought as to how that affects long-suffering Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), or approval-seeking Barkley (Bryan Greenberg). When Swedish prize-givers beckon and Barkley misses the plane, for instance, Eli barely blinks.

And his reaction is only slightly more animated when, shortly after landing in Oslo, he gets a ransom demand accompanied by a severed thumb. Sarah insists on reporting that thumb to the authorities, and soon all manner of misdirection is being practiced on the police by a determined young kidnapper (Shawn Hatosy) who is otherwise barely able to hogtie his own shoelaces.

The over-the-top plot gets considerably more complicated than these early events suggest, without ever getting remotely involving, but perhaps audience involvement isn't really the point. Certainly, longtime TV writer-director Randall Miller doesn't actively court the suspension of disbelief, willing or otherwise.

He stages some scenes as realism, others with a degree of overstatement more suitable to sketch-comedy. The director must have more going for him than is immediately evident here, because everyone he has ever worked with — even on, say, a single episode of Cheers — seems game to work with him again: Danny DeVito as an obsessive-compulsive neighbor, for instance, along with Ted Danson in a police chief cameo and Bill Pullman as a detective whose apparently passionate past with Steenburgen's forensic pathologist has mostly been left on the cutting-room floor.

They're window-dressing all — but they do lend a bit of incidental star power to a goofy and mostly suspenseless suspenser.

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