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Flash of Genius movie poster

Flash of Genius

Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:
Marc Abraham
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda
Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: The motor never really gets running on the story of the engineer who invented intermittent windshield wipers.
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Swish, Swish, Swish, Swish
Flash of Genius Doesn't Show Much of Either

It's the kind of story that gets told around the dinner tables across America:

"Remember ol' Dr. Kearns? He was kind of an eccentric, an inventor. Came up with those windshield wipers that stop between wipes, ya know, for when it's raining but not pouring? Well, Ford Motor Company heard about the idea and stole it, and whaddid he do? Sued ‘em— one of the biggest companies in the world! Guy had guts, I'll tell ya that."

It's worthy conversation over meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and even in business and law schools...but cinematic? Let's just say that Flash of Genius didn't convince us.

The movie has some classic Hollywood elements: a righteous and determined underdog, underhanded corporate pirates, and allies of questionable loyalty, all wrapped up in a David vs. Goliath shell. Other films (A Civil Action, Erin Brockovich and All the President's Men among them) share similar themes, but those are about life, death and the destiny of a nation, while this is about, uh, a windshield wiper mechanism. We're very sorry, but it's just not that important. 

Greg Kinnear and Dermot Mulrooney in Flash of Genius
Greg Kinnear in Flash of Genius

Flashier storytelling could have helped. Perhaps to be kind to the actual people the movie is based on, characters seem milked of spunk and sinew, save for a cameo by Alan Alda. Star Greg Kinnear does what he can with the Dr. Kearns he's given—he's got a fire in the belly but no discernable bond with his children, who he insists motivated the lawsuit. The film also makes much of Kearns' ethics, but after a while the lawsuit looked less like morality than spite.

We would also have liked to see more of Detroit, doing for the high-flying 1960s auto industry what "Mad Men" does for Madison Avenue. But beyond a smattering of period cars and a trip to the country club, there's not much sense of time or place.

And we're back to a could-be-anywhere family story.

Reviewed by Andrew Bender

PKR091808 (Updated: 10/03/08 KR)

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