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Nobel Son
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by Peter Sobczynski

"America Now Has Its Own "Rocknrolla"
1 stars

“Nobel Son” is a film that contains the kind of twist-filled narrative that inevitably sends viewers out into the parking lot after the end credits with a lot of unanswered questions. I know that I had plenty of them, though I somehow suspect that they weren’t exactly the ones that the filmmakers had in mind. How is it possible that a film this empty, ugly and incoherent can possibly get financed and released in this day and age? How is it possible that so many talented actors could have possibly been coaxed into signing on to this particular project on the basis of a screenplay that they presumably pay their handlers and managers good money to keep them far away from in the first place? Is there even still a viable market out there for this kind of exercise in faux-Tarantino crime nonsense, a subgenre that was running out of steam more than a decade ago? Did the filmmakers kick off their story with a graphic display of a guy getting his thumb chopped off as a not-so-subtle rejoinder to the anticipated reaction of most critics and sentient human beings to their tawdry bag of goods? Is there a way that I can offer a formal apology to Guy Ritchie for insinuating that his latest film, “Rocknrolla,” was an ugly, stupid, violent and incoherent mess of a crime film when it actually comes across as a modern day “Asphalt Jungle” when compared to this disaster?

The film stars Bryan Greenberg as Barkley Michaelson, a poverty-stricken graduate student who is aimlessly struggling to complete his thesis on cannibalism (a subject he seems to have chosen so that the film can constantly utilize Renaissance-era writer Michel de Montaigne’s maxim “There is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead”) while living in the long shadow of his father, the brilliant but insufferable chemistry professor Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman), a man whose entire life now seem to be devoted to ignoring or berating his son and wife (Mary Steenburgen), lording his intellectual superiority over his colleagues and nailing every willing co-ed in sight. As the story opens, that shadow grows even longer and Eli becomes even more insufferable when it is announced that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry. On the night before he is to fly off with his parents to Stockholm to attend the ceremony, Barkley bails out early on a party for his father in order to attend a poetry reading featuring the works of the lovely-but-edgy City Hall. After a bizarre-but-blissful night of passion with the poetess (which is surely inspired less by her work, which is execrable, than by the fact that she looks like Eliza Dushku), Barkley oversleeps and when he rushes home in the hopes of catching up with his parents (who have already left for the airport), he get conked on the head and kidnapped by a mysterious intruder (Shawn Hatosy) who plans on ransoming him for the $2 million in prize money that his dad is off to collect.

From this point on, I will not reveal who the kidnapper is, what his real motives are for targeting Barkley and his father or any of the myriad twists and turns that will be deployed over the next hour or so. This is less out of a desire to preserve the various surprises in the screenplay by Jody Savin & Randall Miller (who also directed) and more because the goings-on are so confusingly introduced and deployed that I am fairly certain that I couldn’t satisfactorily explain most of the twists if you put a gun to my head. My only consolation in this regard is my suspicion that neither Savin nor Miller would be able to do much better. This is one of those screenplays that determines to pull the rug from out from under the audience’s feet every few minutes or so, mostly because films such as “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Usual Suspects” did the same thing and went on to achieve significant critical and commercial success. Ah yes, but what Savin & Miller haven’t quite figured out is that in those movies, the various twists all came across as fairly organic and integral to the plot. By comparison, their change-ups seem to have been arbitrarily stuck in here and there in order help juice up a storyline that wasn’t cutting it on its own. The problem with this approach is that the various twists and double-crosses become so frequent (and frequently annoying) after a while that they take us out of the story for good--why bother getting invested in what is going on when we are only going to discover in a few minutes that nothing is at it seems? This also extends to the actors as well--none of the cast members are able to give a consistent performance because of all the changes and by the end of the film, they all come across with the kind of grim determination that suggests that they collectively gave up on trying to make sense of it all and merely decided to go about their work in the most detached manner possible until the film mercifully wrapped. Perhaps realizing that neither the story nor the characterizations made any sense from scene to scene, Miller has decided to shoot the entire story in a highly stylized manner that includes elaborate camera movements and rapid-fire editing as a way of distracting us from the essential hollowness of the material. The only trouble is that he so overdoes the elaborate camera movements and rapid-fire editing that all it does is further underscore the film’s narrative deficiencies.

The only interesting thing about “Nobel Son”--and this may be stretching the definition of the word--is that it was made by many of the same people behind last summer’s “Bottle Shock,” the low-key indie comedy-drama about a run-down California vineyard that became involved in an international wine-tasting contest. Granted, I wasn’t the hugest fan of that movie, though it did receive some good reviews here and there, but it at least felt like it was telling a real story about real people and while it may not have been completely successful, it never betrayed the total contempt for its audience that this effort does. In that film, you were able to at least slightly relate with the characters and what they were hoping to achieve. Here, the only people on display that most viewers will be able to relate to are Danny DeVito and Ted Danson, both of whom wander in as if from another movie, stick around for a couple of minutes and then wander off again, most likely in search of the movie that they came in from in the first place--a move that most of the remaining viewers of “Nobel Son” will likely want to emulate.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17874&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/05/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

12/05/08 jcjs33 critics hate this..loved it..great..funny..thriller..wow acting..curvy..smart..seeing again 5 stars
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  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

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