Combustible Celluloid
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With: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Kelleher, Bill Smitrovich, Alan Alda, Mitch Pileggi
Written by: Philip Railsback, based on an article by John Seabrook
Directed by: Marc Abraham
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 119
Date: 09/07/2008

Flash of Genius (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Don't Believe the Wipe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Usually the three or four biopics that come out at this time of year are about some famous person, an artist, athlete or politician. So the idea of a biopic about some almost-ordinary guy, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper of all things, seemed promising. But sadly, first-time director Marc Abraham presents this story exactly the same as all the other biopics, all highlights and nothing small or human. Greg Kinnear stars in the Oscar-ready role of Bob Kearns, a humble inventor who wants to know why you can't adjust your windshield wipers according to how hard it's raining. His wife (Lauren Graham) and kids stand by him as he invents, then tries to sell his idea to Ford Motors. Ford doesn't like the idea of Kearns following his dream and actually running the factory that builds the gizmos, so they steal his idea and leave him in the lurch. Kearns spends the next several years fighting, eventually getting to court and -- good for entertaining courtroom scenes -- acting as his own legal counsel. Kinnear is good, but not particularly great in his role, registering weariness and heaviness, but unable to coax much of anything else from the script. Graham and the various kids (of various ages) are little more than props, placeholders at which Kinnear can aim his dialogue. Abraham and screenwriter Philip Railsback wrongly try to make these family members part of the drama even though we have no idea who his family is. Moreover, aside from images of rain and windshield wipers, the movie never really tries anything visually interesting. For a much better, and underrated Greg Kinnear biopic, check out Auto Focus (2002).

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