Some things wicked this way come in Randall (Bottle Shock) Miller’s 2007 black comedy-thriller Nobel Son, in which themes of kidnap, would-be cannibalism, professorial megalomania, the criminally insane, and (who woulda thunk?) a warm fuzzy wrap-up are gleefully stirred into the madly plotted pot. Early in the tale, we’re fed a key line and thesis statement: “Good and bad are not so absolute.” The rest of the film works hard to present evidence, not always convincingly. It is also true that good and bad in indie films are not absolute. At its best, Nobel Son picks up where the late, funny, and dark side-lurking filmmaker Paul Bartel left off.
Without giving too much away, the plot involves our semi-shady protagonist, a scuffling PhD candidate (Bryan Greenberg), whose scoundrel father becomes a Nobel Prize winner by dubious means. Enter elements of a kidnap caper and a complex and totally implausible back story concerning waylaid paternity and a lost son whose intellect nearly matches his sociopathic tendencies. It can be disconcerting to watch the green talent of the younger cast mixed in with these fine actors formerly known as front runners. Playing with type, sleazy old Alan Rickman (also the star of Bottle Shock) is the chief villain here – and he’s not even the kidnapper. Danny Devito, Bill Pullman, and Ted Danson also show up, though without their talents much tested. Snarly little treats appear along the way, including a scene in which a media-angered Mary Steenbergen points a pistol at longtime Los Angeles newscaster Kelly Lange, or the sequence in which Minis careen around a shopping mall by remote control.
In short, Nobel Son is a wildly uneven and occasionally titillating B (or B-) movie that’s nasty fun on some level. But the film tries too hard and stumbles too often to be much more than a sensation that falls somewhere between a guilty pleasure joy buzzer and an insect-like irritant.