After Two Feel Good Flicks, Randall Miller's Nobel Son Just Feels Awful

Directionless PhD candidate Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) lives in the shadow of his overbearing genius father, Eli (Alan Rickman), who is about to be awarded the Nobel Prize. That's when two seemingly unrelated events occur: Barkley beds a gorgeous artist named City Hall (Eliza Dushku) and gets kidnapped by Thaddeus (Shawn Hatosy), an unhinged young man who wants to hold Barkley for ransom. Barkley convinces Thaddeus to include him in the plan, excited at the prospect of fleecing his old man. Anyone who suffered through the Tarantino knockoffs of the 1990s knows that no filmic crime caper will run smoothly, but director and co-writer Randall Miller is so ill at ease with the basic building blocks of the genre that Nobel Son quickly announces itself as one of those misbegotten clunkers where almost every creative decision isn't just wrong but tone-deaf. Nobel Son's desperately "edgy" vibe extends to all aspects of the film but is most noticeable in the cavalcade of flip one-liners delivered by a cast that's been told to give their characters maximum quirkiness. The more experienced actors mostly keep their dignity, but the younger cast members—particularly Dushku as a blank femme fatale and Greenberg as the charmless antihero—posture insufferably. For Miller, this dark thriller represents an attempt to shift gears after back-to-back feel-good films Bottle Shock and Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School. He's succeeded in a way: Nobel Son just feels awful.

 
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