The Good: Excellent characters, Interesting idea, Excellent casting, Resolution
The Bad: Tough idea to make cinematically interesting, Serious pacing issues, Generally unimpressive acting.
The Basics: A good cast and the story of a good fight cannot save Flash Of Genius, which is - too early - dragged into a slow and virtually unwatchable movie.
While watching The Social Network (click here for my review!) I realized that there are remarkably few films which deal with the real workings behind inventing and creating, at least of products. I recalled being at the Mall Of America when I saw the obscure film Swing Vote and, as obscure movies tend to do, the preview for the small film Flash Of Genius. So, last night, as I was looking for new material to watch, I decided to get Flash Of Genius out of the library. The movie had a lot of elements I was predisposed toward. Unfortunately, it took quite a bit of time before the film took off and I cared enough about all of those elements that had brought me to the movie.
In addition to being intrigued by the basic premise of Flash Of Genius, I was actually surprised by how long it took me to watch the movie because it had Lauren Graham and Alan Alda in the film, both of whom I like quite a bit in other projects. I am not predisposed against Greg Kinnear, but with Flash Of Genius, it did not take long at all before I found his performance to be derivative of other works of his that I had seen. Unfortunately, because the first half of the movie is so slow and painfully paced, Flash Of Genius is hardly the great work it could have been and is more easy to pass by than I would have liked.
Bob Kearns is a teacher and an inventor who is driving along one day, getting tired of turning his windshield wipers on and off, when he has an idea. He walks out on his wife, Phyllis, one night to experiment and shortly thereafter he invents the intermittent windshield wiper. Despite being cautious and working with his business-driven friend, Gil Previck, Bob Kearns is given an audience with Ford Motors wherein he installs and tests his intermittent wiper on one of their cars before Ford backs out of the business arrangement they began with Kearns. That year, at their car show, Ford includes the intermittent wiper on their new model car.
This betrayal sets Kearns off on an obsessive quest to right the wrong that lasts over a decade. As Phyllis leaves him and lawyers abandon him, Kearns works to get Ford Motors to admit they stole his idea. Alone and determined, Kearns studies the law and when a new law looks to push pending lawsuits through the courts, Kearns and his son represent him against Ford Motors, despite Ford trying to keep the business quite by throwing obscene amounts of money at the inventor.
Flash Of Genius is a movie that is pretty much the classic good guy fighting the good fight and, unfortunately, it doesn't bring anything new to the table. The ending is predictable, though it doesn't go for the most cheesy or obvious Hollywood resolution, which is refreshing. This is, sadly, the issue with the movie. By the time Flash Of Genius becomes engaging or worth watching, the viewer is so bored that they can hardly muster up the energy to care about the characters who are finally (finally!) doing something interesting. Instead, the movie is belabored by a beginning which illustrates more how dire Bob's life becomes while waiting for the lawsuit to actually be presented and it is visually uninteresting.
Moreover, because it is based upon a true story, Flash Of Genius is almost entirely devoid of snappy dialogue or pep that makes the piece resonate. The comparison right off the bat to The Social Network is not a bad one. Both films have characters who have invented something, trapped in the middle of legal debates over their ownership of that invention. The significant difference is that The Social Network pops with fast-paced dialogue and quick turns of phrase that make the movie almost instantly engaging. Flash Of Genius does not have that and as a result, it is slow for far too long before the movie becomes engaging.
What brings the movie up into the range that is just below average is the acting and the way Kearns' obsession finally becomes interesting. Gregory Lawson, played by Alan Alda, calls Bob out near the middle of the film about how unlikable his character is and after that point, Kearns' obsession, his desire to just have Ford acknowledge that they stole his work, becomes much more interesting. The viewer is not just watching a good guy go for what he deserves, we are watching a jerk fight even though he'll never win any popularity contests.
As for the acting, Greg Kinnear does fine as Bob Kearns. Kinnear must balance the brilliance of the character with the obsessive nature which expresses a deeply human, essentially human, sense of wronging. While Kinnear is credible in both parts, he never seems to make both halves gel as effectively as he ought to to make the two halves of the character come together as a serious person. Even when it doesn't quite work, Kinnear's performance does not feel fresh or different to those who have followed his career. We know Kinnear can pull of perfectly serious and even hurt, but he doesn't do it in any new way in Flash Of Genius.
The supporting cast, however, is pretty wonderful. Lauren Graham, who is masterful at playing upset and hurt when her Phyllis must play strained off Kinnear, goes to exactly that place in Flash Of Genius. Similarly, she has enough chemistry with Kinnear early on in the film to make the relationship work believably. Supporting players like Dermot Mulroney (Gil Previck) and Alan Alda and genre favorites like Daniel Roebuck, Mitch Pileggi, and Bill Smitrovich round out the cast to give the world of the film a very real sense of depth.
On DVD, Flash Of Genius comes only with a commentary track and 7 deleted scenes, which are pretty much the standard features for this type of serious drama.
Ultimately, there is not quite enough to recommend Flash Of Genius, though I write that with a weird sense that I was glad I stuck it out because what flounders in the first half is brought to a masterful resolution in the second half. Good for a rainy day, but not a permanent collection, Flash Of Genius is a real mixed boat which will not sail for most cinephiles.
For other works which illustrate behind-the-scenes elements of professional environments, please check out my reviews of:
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Glengarry Glen Ross
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.