A twist on the father-son conflict, and on the hostage drama, Nobel Son brings gore and some surprising humour to the dysfunctional family potboiler as it skewers academic propriety. The gag-filled comedy, which flaunts its quirkiness and improbable situations, could draw on the audience for Alan Rickman and Danny DeVito, and on the growing public for seductive Eliza Dushku.
There's enough torture to bring in some gore fans, but the elements don't blend to elevate Nobel Son to this season's comedy short list. Despite the Nobel references and the novelty of a student of anthropophagy (cannibalism) as a protagonist, foreign interest will be minimal.
The belaboured script by Miller and Jody Savin is an example of the Iron Chef approach - in which a meal (here a story) is made from unlikely ingredients - in this case, a Nobel Prize, an angry an anthropophagist son, and two young psychopaths who met at an asylum.
At the centre of Nobel Son's story is penniless black-sheep Barkley Michaelson (Greenberg), who's completing his anthropophagy thesis. After a blissful night with poetess City Hall (Dushku), Barkley is kidnapped by Thaddeus James (Hatosy) who announces a $2m ransom just as Barkley's rich father, chemist Eli Michaelson (Rickman), wins the Nobel Prize and gets a bloody thumb in the mail.
Vengeful Thaddeus claims to be the bastard son of a woman whom Michaelson knocked up decades earlier, and says the Nobel Prize was won for research actually done by his mother's late professor/husband.
Much of the action spins around the elder Michaelson's elegant Greene and Greene mission-style bungalow in Pasadena, where wife Sarah (Steenburgen) is a forensic psychiatrist and Gastner (DeVito) is an obsessive/compulsive caretaker. Human food gags add a special touch to the anthropophagy them.
Director Randall Miller (Marilynn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing And Charm School) has worked mostly in television, and he directs Nobel Son like a chase film, darting from place to place as Barkley cracks under the threat of mutilation, his parents fight over ransoming him, and an LA detective with eyes for Sarah (Bill Pullman) investigates.
In this comedy of psychopathologies, Thaddeus and City Hall are found to be in cahoots, having met as patients in a mental institution.
Alan Rickman steals the show here as a vain professor who is a cad of a father that any son would hate and a shameless philanderer who denies his student conquests good grades. Wickedly hilarious, in a script that gives him all the good lines, his character shows no sign of a conscience and relishes lording his unearned prize over colleagues.
Greenberg is believable as the wimp son of a nasty father. Steenburgen is sympathetic as the villain's longsuffering wife. Shawn Hatosy searches for the right tone as the sadistic Thaddeus, an auto mechanic turned low-tech mad engineer (taking cues from Jim Carrey's Cable Guy), who makes machines do his bidding. One of Nobel Son's wackiest moments is a scene where he programs a driver-less Austin Mini to speed around a crowded mall with the $2m ransom in its trunk.
Gimme Five Productions