Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flash of Genius

If you ever watched those old Frank Capra movies like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" or "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (NOT the horrible Adam Sandler remake) then you'll like "Flash of Genius." It's the same sort of film about a small-time professor-turned-inventor who takes on Ford Motor Company. Is it a spoiler to say he wins? You can already find out I'm sure on Wikipedia or whatever about the real case. Anyway, in movies like this of course the little guy wins! But there is a cost. I suppose I won't spoil that for you.

The story begins with Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear, an affable everyman equal to Jimmy Stewart or Gary Gooper) and his family coming home from church sometime in the 1960s. It's raining outside but the rain is too light for the windshield wipers to clear away without scraping but too hard to leave the wipers off entirely. The ideal solution is to have wipers that could blink like a human eye or work intermittently. So that night Kearns foresakes sex with his dutiful wife (Lauren Graham, formerly of "The Gilmore Girls") to make their seventh child (being Catholic they don't believe in birth control) to take apart his car's windshield wipers. With the help of his two older boys he soon puts together a working prototype of the intermittent wiper. Allying himself with a local car dealer friend, he pitches the concept to Ford, who has been working unsuccessfully on the project for nearly two years.

Things get a little strained when Kearns says he wants to make the wipers himself and even goes to the trouble of financing factory space. Ford would rather do it themselves and so they decide to cut Kearns out of the deal. They say they're backing out and in the process steal his design. One night Kearns is coming home when he sees new Ford Mustangs with HIS wipers. Of course Ford won't admit this and so after a while Dr. Kearns goes a little off the deep end, imagining he's going to Washington to see the vice-president. (This is actually the opening scene of the movie.)

From there Kearns spends time in a mental institution before coming home and eventually hiring a lawyer (Alan Alda) to fight his case. The lawyer is able to get Ford to cough up a $250,000 settlement. But Kearns refuses it because Ford won't admit any wrongdoing. No credit, no deal. The lawyer bails out then--which is too bad because Alda's character was great--leaving Kearns to fight on alone with only his family to help him. And the rest should be obvious, right?

This is an enjoyable film. There's not much real drama in it, no explosions or ninjas jumping out of closets. Ford never sends any henchmen after Kearns, just a sleazy lawyer who tries to bribe him. That's probably why the scene where Kearns goes crazy is shown first because other than the courtroom scenes it's the most dramatic thing going on. Still, as I mentioned earlier, Greg Kinnear is an affable enough everyman that you want him to slay the giant and get his due.

The only problem I saw is that I didn't think the filmmakers did enough to sell the reason why it was so important for Ford to admit the wrongdoing. When you think about it, Kearns puts his family through Hell for twelve years and for what, so he can get the credit? There is some mention that what he's doing this for all inventors who have gotten screwed by big companies over the years, but perhaps not enough so that I couldn't help feeling a little unsettled at times.

This is a heartwarming story about someone you probably never thought about. You'll certainly never look at your intermittent windshield wipers the same way again. If this is in theaters near you, I'd recommend seeing it--and soon, before it's pushed out of theters by junk like "Saw V" and "Max Payne." Otherwise you can rent it on DVD. It's not exciting, but it is good old-fashioned David-and-Goliath storytelling.

That is all.

(My score: 3 stars)
(Metacritic score: 57)

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