"Nobel Son" loosely straps a story of family disappointment and academic jealousy to a juiced-up caper flick and then speeds off on its way. What comes next is a movie with moments of vengeance-filled enjoyment but also a sense of tonal haphazardness.
You can't blame co-writer-director Randall Miller ("Bottle Shock") for wanting to have flashy criminal fun with his setup.
At the same time an arrogant and rakish scientist named Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is awarded the Nobel Prize, his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) -- struggling to complete a PhD centered on cannibalism -- falls prey to a kidnapping brainiac (Shawn Hatosy) whose venal scheme involves a severed thumb, Mini Coopers and a devastating family secret about Eli. Daddy isn't too keen on ponying up the ransom, though, which puts Barkley in a mind to turn the tables on a father who has ridiculed him his whole life.
That might seem enough for a tight, nasty little payback romp, but Miller and wife-co-writer Jody Savin's ingredient-heavy mix includes the criminal psychologist mom (Mary Steenburgen), a nosy detective (Bill Pullman), a crazy/sexy poet chick named City Hall (Eliza Dushku) and an extraneous character with OCD played by Danny DeVito.
That said, the large, eclectic cast has its virtues, and the sneering Rickman and effortlessly carnal Dushku are especially watchable.
But "Nobel Son" shows strains of stylistic overkill with egregious flash-edit tricks and sped-up camera moves, while the signal-flare plotting indicates that perhaps a bit more time could have been taken on the screenplay.
Also, a grating techno score by Paul Oakenfold gives the same thumping sonic import to inconsequential moments as it does to tense action, which makes enjoying the comic thriller's eccentric genre blend all the more difficult.
MPAA rating: R for some violent, gruesome images, language and sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: In wide release