They say that the music makes the man.
Actually, no, They don't, but I do, and by "man," I mean "movie". And it isn't so much that the work of composer Paul Oakenfold single-handedly undoes Nobel Son but rather unwittingly serves an accomplice to creating one aggressively atonal crime caper. His thumping techno beats are more fitting for the likes of Swordfish -- indeed, they were at the time -- and maybe more so when accompanying a night of relentless thrusting and occasional pill-popping in Ye Local Nightclub, an activity of more potential enjoyment than sitting through this movie instead. Either way, you'd end up lots of noise, plenty of flash, and little to show for it other than a lasting headache and a lingering sense of regret. I don't know when, where, or why Randall Miller -- the man who brought us the suffocatingly saccharine Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School and the comparatively serviceable Bottle Shock, and reunites many cast members from both here -- decided that a twisty, twisted thriller of sorts was right up his alley. And unlike the wines of that last film, one cannot say that Nobel Son has improved with age since its lensing in 2005 (if it actually has, then God help us). But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, a little too mean, a little too quick, because at its heart is one reasonably unpredictable plot -- far-fetched, to be sure, but enough to string one along if featured in a film with a less jarring soundtrack, not to mention a camera and an editor who could both sit still from time to time.
The egomaniacal Dr. Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His wife (Mary Steenburgen) is coming along on the trip to Sweden, and his son (Bryan Greenberg) would be if not for two things: hitting on a local poet (Eliza Dushku), and getting hit on soon after with a baseball bat, wielded by his kidnapper (Shawn Hatosy). However, Eli is too busy fending off undergraduate flings and relishing the academic glory to notice that his son is too busy being held for a ransom -- which Daddy simply refuses to pay.
From here on out, tables get turned and things get tricky, and while I'm in no place to reveal just quite where the proceedings go, I will assure you that the tangle of the second half grows marginally more interesting than the first, coming to lend the title extra resonance and all but stumbling into something like a theme about the sins of the father, of which Eli has no shortage. However, it is a tangle that would considerably entertaining if it didn't feel like random Oakenfold tracks were paired up with the least amped-up material in the film, and if the editing were then forced to match the pulse of his beats, making the mundane ridiculously embellished with quick cuts and a pervasively ramped-up attitude, as if Miller were afraid that the story and the cast might not be enough to keep an audience interested.
To that end, the ensemble here proves equally unsure as to whether they're playing it straight or adding some juice to a darkly comedic outing. Rickman hams it up, royally and rightfully; Steenburgen becomes more driven once her character decides to lend her know-how to the case, teaming up with cop buddy Bill Pullman; Dushku is sexy and unstable in equal measure, for reasons that become apparent; and yet Greenberg and Hatosy match one another in vocal whine and grunted expressions. It's the type of film that proudly opens with a thumb being bloodily amputated, from angle after angle after angle, as if a single shot of a stranger in a dark parking lot being attacked in such a manner wouldn't be enough to make one sit up straight and keep on watching.
And it's these little things, all these little things -- the music, the editing, the acting, the direction -- come to make a clever, perhaps too clever, story come off as something smug and glib and generally apathetic as to who gets what in the end, so long as it seems clever at the time. A word of advice to Randall Miller the next time he tries to ape Guy Ritchie: Change the tune. Change the tone. And maybe then, everyone could get away clean.