While "Flash of Genius" seems like another story of little-guy perseverance, an inspiring movie about an average joe sticking it to the big, bad, mulitmillion-dollar man, you may end up wondering how the heck this TV-movie escaped from the TNT channel.
"Genius" is the fact-based story of Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), a Detroit engineering professor and budding inventor who came up with and patented the intermittent windshield wiper in the late '60s. Since he lives smack dab in the middle of Motor City, his businessman pal (Dermot Mulroney, looking like Glen Campbell) persuades him to take his invention over to car titan Ford.
Before you can say "sucker," the company (led by a couldn't-be-shiftier Mitch Pileggi) snatches the invention from under him, leaving him without a creation to call his own. This sends him on a paranoid spiral that includes a nervous breakdown, an eventual stay at a mental institution and, finally, his redemptive struggle to sue Ford for jacking his invention.
While everyone, from his wife (Lauren Graham, toning down the "Gilmore Girls" perkiness) to his attorney (Alan Alda -- yeah, I was surprised to see him, too!), tells him he can't face a powerful corporation and expect to win, his decision doesn't waiver. He'll get his day in court even if it takes him a dozen years -- which, according to the movie, it actually does.
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Shot mostly in dreary, high-end digital video by seasoned cinematographer Dante Spinotti ("L.A. Confidential") and helmed by first-time director/veteran producer Marc Abraham ("Children of Men"), "Genius" matches the mundane murkiness of its main character and his quest to make sure everyone knows who he is and what he's accomplished. The movie culminates in a courtroom-covered final act that resembles a straight-faced version of the wacky courtroom climax from Woody Allen's "Bananas." (Kearns even foolishly cross-examines himself just like ol' Fielding Mellish did.)
Kinnear, proving once again he isn't just good for playing smarmy tools, does his best to make us root for a guy who has the most screwed-up priorities. He wants everyone to know he's responsible for a windshield wiper, but he isn't that keen on taking responsibility as a husband and father. I don't know if it was the intention of Abraham and screenwriter Philip Railsback to make Kearns, who passed away from brain cancer in 2005, look like a stubborn nut job, but they manage to pull that off effortlessly.
Sure, "Flash of Genius" is supposed to uplift, showing people they don't have to exhibit soul-crushing pessimism when an all-too powerful force has done them wrong. No sir -- you can stand up and fight back! But, the movie also shows you may have to be, shall we say, two CDs short of a box set in order to pull it off -- and also willing to abandon family, friends and your precious time.
Other than that, fight the power, yo!