“Nobel Son” is one of those movies that tries to be so many things at once — in this case a black comedy, a kidnap thriller and an homage to classic films — that it ends up not being much of anything.
Add fast-cut editing (a la “City of God”), fancy lensing stolen from Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma, throbbing techno music and over-the-top acting into the mix, and you have a cinematic mess.
However, what redeems “Nobel Son” are its engaging plot twists, which keep your attention as you try to figure out what’s happening; there are more twists in this movie than there are in the garland on your Christmas tree (and more holes in this time-jumping story than there are in all the golf courses in Michigan). But hey, don’t give up on this movie.
The cast features a kinetic circus of actors who savor and have fun with their roles. The always-talented Alan Rickman plays professor Eli Michaelson, a loathsome, egomaniacal, cruel genius, who wins the Nobel Prize, much to the disgust of his wife, son and colleagues. Rickman rolls around in this role with supreme pleasure, like a hog in mud, licking his acting chops.
His smart, beautiful, much-cheated-on wife is played by Mary Steenburgen, who rises above the messy story with aplomb.
Danny DeVito rubs his hands in anguish as the obsessive-compulsive neighbor who complicates the plot with his narrow understanding.
But the standout performances in this movie are given by Shawn Hatosy (“Alpha Dog”), as a brilliant psychotic kidnapper, and Eliza Dushku (best known for her roles in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series), as a very sexy poet from the dark side.
Watching “Nobel Son” is kind of like visiting an amusement park; some of the rides are thrilling and others give you a headache, but in all you are glad you went. The movie also provides some good post-show discussion, as viewers try putting all the pieces together and find the gaping holes.
Directed by Randall Miller
Rated R, 110 minutes
Rating: ** 1/2 (out of five)