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Father of Invention

2010 | 93 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Father of Invention


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Theatrical release date

 14 October, 2011

Country of origin

 United States



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Father of Invention


Screenshots from Father of Invention Blu-ray

Father of Invention Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 12, 2011

“Father of Invention” is a mischievous idea in search of a stronger motion picture. It’s best as a comedy, permitting the colorful cast a chance to play against type with broad but friendly characters. Unfortunately, co-writer/director Trent Cooper keeps positioning the feature as a family drama, looking to tug heartstrings when something frothier was in order. I enjoyed sections of “Father of Invention,” but it’s an effort drawn to mediocrity, ignoring wonderful comedic opportunities to make yet another relationship story between a humiliated father and his distrustful daughter. I wish there was an invention to help alleviate the nauseating effects of tuneless melodrama.

Robert Axel (Kevin Spacey) was once the king of the invention, spending every minute of the day selling useless fabrications to a gullible public, ignoring wife Lorraine (Virginia Madsen) and daughter Claire (Camilla Belle) in the process. After a decade-long prison stint for maiming customers with a faulty product, Robert is hungry to get back in the game, finding only resistance to the felon’s ideas. Returning to the life he once ignored, Robert finds Lorraine has married a security officer (Craig Robinson), while Claire struggles to make her philanthropic dreams come true. Taking refuge on her couch, Robert attempts to reconnect with his child, but can’t quite catch her attention. When an idea for a new invention pops into his head, Robert feels alive again, racing back into old habits without money or industry trust, once again alienating Claire.

Cooper’s last cinematic effort was 2006’s “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector,” which doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence in his directorial abilities. Thankfully, “Father of Invention” is a lighter effort, following a slick Ron Popeil figure who’s hit rock bottom, stripped of charisma, fame, and money, forced to rebuild what remains of his life. With Spacey in the lead role, Cooper had a shot to propel the material into fresh areas of confrontation, observing the tattered man gradually overcome his infamy as he mounts a full court press for his latest fabrication: a wireless leash for little kids that doubles as a video game and MP3 player. It’s an amusing concept just aching for a farcical take, using Spacey’s natural wiliness to make a righteous mess out of Robert’s comeback, abusing the steps to an industry rebirth for comedic effect. Sadly, Cooper doesn’t want to make that movie, despite early scenes that promise something unhinged, watching Robert interact with his nervous big box store manager (Johnny Knoxville), or deal with Claire’s feisty lesbian roommate, Phoebe (Heather Graham).

“Father of Invention” hopes to play softer, investigating the hurt within Robert and Claire, two virtual strangers finding an emotional block of ice between them. The second half of the film really grinds the gears of melodrama, finding Robert swept back up in the game of invention, only to recognize how much his huckster ways hurt his daughter. The performances are acceptable, but the writing is depressingly formulaic, taking a customary route of domestic redemption instead of opening up the tension, challenging the characters in innovative ways that would make Spacey and Belle shine brighter. There’s little reason to pay attention to the father/daughter dynamic, especially when Cooper colors his supporting cast well, bringing in John Stamos to portray an invention rival and Red West to play Robert’s now senile prototype manufacturer. Robinson also steals scenes as, gasp, a nice guy happy to help his wife’s first husband.

Predictability soon swallows the feature whole, lurching into a labored finale that attempts to extract a few smiles and tears, establishing a moment of redemption for Robert that I’m not convinced he’s ever earned. The early going is where much of the charm and speed of the picture is found, creating an early impression of quality the film gradually burns off, wasting a perfectly fine chance to capture the mess of a dubious man’s life.

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Camilla Belle, Heather Graham, Johnny Knoxville, Anna Anissimova, John Stamos
Director: Trent Cooper

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