October 4, 2008 by  

Flash of Genius


Flash of Genius

The Kerns family has dinner before facing off against the auto industry in "Flash of Genius."

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by: Marc Abraham (debut)
Written by: Philip Railsback (“The Stars Fell on Henrietta”)

While true-story underdog films are usually reserved for athletes in the sports world, it’s always nice to see other industries get some attention and find a way to stick it to the man.

That’s exactly what Dr. Bob Kerns (Greg Kinnear) tries to do to the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit back in the 1960 when he sued them for patent infringement. As a college professor of electrical engineering and aspiring inventor, Bob did what no Ford-employee could do and perfect the intermitted windshield wiper for the automobile.

With dreams to sell it to the big auto companies and manufacture it himself, Bob is furiously undercut by Ford executives who steal his invention and call it their own. Although he is advised to bite the bullet and put the offense behind him, Bob can’t get passed the thought of how close he was to making a real contribution to the world. His depression and paranoia soon get the better of him as he decides to ignore all the advice given to him and sue Ford.

Obsessed with the case, Bob feels cheated and won’t let anything stop him from getting the credit he feels he deserves. As his life begins to crumble from the ground up, Bob sticks to his timeless plan even as it destroys his marriage and family.

As a straight-forward biopic, “Flash of Genius” is formulaic in its delivery but captures the daunting emotional tug-o-war Bob is experiencing in every aspect of his life. Kinnear suits the character well and gives a fine performances especially when Bob it at his most compulsive.

Because the Kerns case took so long to go to court, the film jumps to the most significant years of Bob’s battle with Ford. It’s a waiting game for audiences, too, but Kinner manages to hold our interest. His work is exceptionally poignant when we finally get into the courtroom and watch Bob lay everything on the line in hope that justice will prevail.

“Flash of Genius” is an appealing story about an event in the auto industry’s history that has never been put on film before. Ironically, the film works on the same level as a working intermitted windshield wiper. Its movements might be predictable, but the pacing is consistent and gets the job done solidly.

Grade: B

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