Nobel Son


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Nobel Son is about a despicable Nobel Prize laureate (Allan Rickman) whose son is kidnapped for the Nobel money. It combines the elements of a thriller with black comedy and hip editing techniques, following kinda sorta in the footsteps of Tarantino and Guy Richie.

For nearly three years, no distributor was willing to take a chance on this film. It was lensed in October-November of 2005 and screened at Tribeca in April of 2007. It finally made it into theaters in December of 2008. The distribution moguls were correct in their assessment that Nobel Son had no box office potential. In fact, it is one of the worst box office performers in history. (Details to the right.) Excluding Roger Ebert, the critics were not much more liberal with their words than the audiences were with their wallets.

So what's wrong with Nobel Son?

To begin with, it fails to pass the basic minimum hurdle for the thriller genre, which is that the plot must make sense upon second viewing, once all the secrets are known. I won't go into detail since this is a thriller with absolutely nothing else going for it but wacky plot twists, but I will warn you that if you re-watch it after all the veils have been lifted, you'll just be scratching your head.

The other major problem is that it pairs baddie against baddie, breaking all the Vince McMahon rules of drama. Rickman is supposed to be playing a terrible human being: arrogant, philandering, and dishonest. The flaw of the film's basic structure is that the character is interesting, and Rickman is a complex and fascinating actor. Couple that with the fact that the rest of the parts are obnoxious, boring, crazy, underwritten, or totally irrelevant, and the result is that Rickman's sneering, insufferable blighter is by far the most intriguing, and arguably even the most likeable, character in the film. The director thus managed to turn his strongest asset (Rickman) into a liability, because I was actually rooting for Rickman to outsmart everyone and keep his money, even though the script assures us that he did not deserve his Nobel. If the film had been cast with Alec Baldwin or James Woods as the professor, at least we would be rooting for the right team.

A third point of irritation: as part of the theoretically hip editing techniques, the film uses wacky cartoon background noises, like the "whooshing" of Speedy Gonzales flashing by. All it needed was the trademark "tinkling foot noises" to qualify it for the Hanna-Barbera hall of fame. Except, of course, that the Magilla Gorilla cartoons had more interesting characters.

Finally, the authors didn't do a lot of research into the life of Nobel-winning scientists. You don't find many of them (probably none) teaching survey courses in amphitheater-style classrooms, or grading their own students in such massive classes, as Rickman's character does. Then again, that doesn't matter much, because nothing else in the film was credible either.

There is one clever scene. The kidnappers use a particularly convoluted scheme to pick up the ransom money in a suburban shopping mall while dozens of cops watch the drop point. That scene was ridiculous and improbable, but original, and a nice bit of genre fun - the sole oasis in a barren Sahara of a script.


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
25 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
28 (of 100)

To put that Metacritic score into perspective, the Razzie "worst picture" winner, The Love Guru, rated 24 on the same scale.


7.2 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. Among films in 600 or more theaters, it had the third-worst opening weekend of all-time, grossing $333,000 in 893 theaters. That proved to be the highlight of its theatrical distribution. The following weekend it set the all-time record for the biggest drop in history from weekend one to weekend two: 95%. I'm not sure what the record is for the biggest drop from weekend two to weekend three, but it has a shot at that one as well, with 96.7%. And it also owns a share of the unbeatable record for the biggest drop from week three to week four: 100%. Of course, there was some good news. That 100% drop only represented a loss of $546.



  • Bryan Greenberg shows his butt.
  • Elisha Dushku is seen wearing only flimsy panties. Unfortunately, the camera is behind her.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Typical plot-driven "thriller." I got through it only because I could watch Rickman read the phone book.