DVD Release Date:  February 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  October 3, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama, Biopic
Run Time:  119 min.
Director:  Marc Abraham
Actors:  Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Andrew Gillies, Alan Alda, Jake Abel. Aaron Abrams, Grant Boyle, Ashton Doudelet, Josette Halpert

WARNING:  This review contains spoilers.  If you want to be surprised by what happens, then please don’t read further.

With all the distressing headlines about the economy lately, a dramatic, David-and-Goliath account of a man brave enough to stand up to a monolith—and actually win—well, that can’t help but have “feel-good movie” written all over it.

But even with the essential ingredients in place, including a compelling, based-on-a-true-story backdrop and another strong leading performance from Greg Kinnear, languid pacing and unimaginative, heavy-handed presentation prevent Flash of Genius from being anything more than a flash in the pan.

As a college professor, sometimes inventor and father of six, Robert Kearns (Kinnear) is determined to make a significant contribution to the world. After several failed inventions and what seems like a hum-drum day job (he clearly doesn’t have a passion for teaching), the proverbial light bulb goes off in Robert’s head as he’s driving his family home from church one particularly rainy Sunday. Half blind in his left eye because of a champagne cork gone awry on his wedding night, Robert simply can’t figure out why his windshield wipers don’t work the way the eye does when it blinks. And so the idea is sparked for intermittent wipers—a groundbreaking creation that Robert executes, along with the help of his equally enthusiastic kids, in his basement.

Satisfying Robert’s craving for purpose and ultimately recognition, it’s not long before the Ford Motor Co. sees opportunity knocking and shows a strong interest in marketing his work. Excited about the way his life is about to change in a seemingly significant fashion, Robert and his wife Phyllis (Lauren Graham) are endearingly naïve about the ways of big business, and of course, everything doesn’t quite go off without a hitch like they expected. After the company drags its feet for weeks and weeks, Robert is informed that Ford is no longer interested in working with him. Unable to reconcile this disturbing turn of events, the situation only gets worse when Robert discovers a curiously identical product a few months later during Ford’s new product launch party.

Rather than just let it go and move on with his life, Robert simply can’t. And even when he’s offered a rather generous settlement to make the situation disappear quietly, Robert not only doesn’t accept the cash, but has determined to fight against Ford’s pilfering of his patents—even though everyone, including his once-supportive wife, tells him he’s wasting his time.

Undeterred, even to the point of his own insanity, Robert invests all of his energy into the endeavor, losing his job and eventually his family in the process. And while it’s certainly a noble pursuit to see someone rally for what’s right rather than conceding in favor of the almighty dollar, Kearns is placed on such a glorious pedestal by the filmmakers that the important sacrifices he makes (like blatantly neglecting his family) are neatly swept under the rug. The audience never sees the gritty realities of such a decision—the moments where Robert probably wanted to give up—because the screenwriter never bothered to give Robert any other emotion but unbridled, stubborn determination. And sadly, we don’t even see a twinge of regret when the wife he clearly loves so much in the beginning of the film leaves. Instead, he naively assumes she’ll come back as soon as it’s all over, even if it’s years and years down the road.