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.

The affair then grows increasingly more hokey in the poorly executed courtroom scenes later on. Lacking the legal complexity of even your basic John Grisham novel, the arguments made by both sides are so simplistic and cheesy that it’s almost insulting to the viewer. Right is clearly so right and wrong is clearly so wrong that you’d think the filmmakers forgot about the power of nuance. And that feeling of being force-fed the moral ultimately disappoints in what’s supposed to be the climatic moment.

Not only is David’s defeat of Goliath not nearly as fulfilling, but it makes Flash of Genius an appropriate title, albeit unintentionally. Sure, the idea for the intermittent wiper may have been genius, but the accompanying movie doesn’t quite live up to all the hype.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking and cigarette smoking depicted.
  • Language/Profanity:  One use of the “f” word plus a few scattered profanities (some uttered by teenage and younger children) and instances where the Lord’s name is taken in vain.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None aside from a couple of skimpy, cleavage-baring tops worn by the Ford models. 
  • Violence:  None.
  • Religion:  The Kearns’ are a church-going family that prays before eating together. In one scene, they pray that God will bring rain so the intermittent windshield wipers could be tested. In several scenes, Robert talks about God having a specific, meaningful purpose for his life.

 

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.