Randall Miller's obnoxious new thriller Nobel Son is a cringe-inducing throwback to the bad old days of the mid-'90s, when video-store shelves overflowed with gleefully profane, self-consciously hip, proudly transgressive thrillers that worshipped at the Church Of Quentin Tarantino, yet were blessed with none of their deity's gifts, and all of his weaknesses. Filled with freeze-frames and set to a deafening techno score, the film isn't populated by human beings, but by random, half-assed assemblages of writerly quirks. For example, Danny DeVito's character is an ex-mental patient defined entirely by his obsessive-compulsive disorder; those who don't find OCD inherently hilarious are in for a long haul.
Bryan Greenberg, the giant slab of beefcake from Prime and HBO's Unscripted, stars as a grad student who struggles to get by while his hotshot professor dad Alan Rickman cheats his way to the Nobel Prize in chemistry. When Rickman wins the big award, a shadowy figure from his past (Shawn Hatosy) kidnaps Greenberg and demands a $2 million ransom. Unlikely alliances ensue as seemingly everyone in Rickman's life plots and schemes to get their grubby little hands on his ill-gotten loot.
As a malevolent peacock of an academic who luxuriates in his own misanthropy, Rickman tears into the dialogue he's saddled with as if it were the finest filet mignon, but he becomes less and less of a presence as the film progresses. Miller's screenplay, co-written and overwritten with Jody Savin, calls attention to itself at every turn. In the most egregious instance, a reporter covering Greenberg's abduction, apparently for the Fancy Words News Network, describes it as an "iniquitous kidnapping," as opposed to the many humanitarian kidnappings that dominate the evening news. Meanwhile, DeVito and Bill Pullman's supporting roles inspire rosy nostalgia for Ruthless People, a black comedy that handled similar subject matter with more wit and less smug self-satisfaction. Nobel Son sadistically resurrects the Tarantino knockoff—an unloved, foul-mouthed little bastard of a subgenre that should now go away forever.