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‘Flash of Genius’ is Dull, Dull, Dull

October 3, 2008

By Jeff Vice Deseret News

FLASH OF GENIUS — ** — Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, brief drugs)

“Flash of Genius” takes an uninteresting idea — on the surface, at least — and actually makes it even less interesting than it already would be.

(For those who are wondering, it’s a film about a controversy about exactly who invented the intermittent windshield wiper for automobiles. Not exactly the kind of stuff to pique audience interest.)

It’s also one of the dullest, most by-the-numbers biographical dramas in recent memory, “Flash” bungles so many opportunities that it’s one of the more frustrating ones as well.

And that’s in spite of the fact that it has a cast that should be able to engage us more than this film does.

Greg Kinnear stars as Robert Kearns, a Midwest college professor who used a simple combination of electronic parts to invent intermittent wipers (up to that point, drivers would have to manipulate wiper controls by hand to get them to work repeatedly).

So, as shown here, he and his business partners (one of them played by Dermot Mulroney) sell Ford Motor Co. officials on the concept.

But then Ford backs out on the deal. And then produces cars featuring wiper devices that look very familiar to Kearns’.

Director Marc Abraham and screenwriter Philip Railsback based this tale on an article written by John Seabrook, which detailed how Kearns spent decades trying to get Ford officials to admit that they had “stolen” his invention.

Railsback’s script portrays Kearns as obsessed with getting “justice” and paints this as a David-versus-Goliath struggle. Unfortunately, it also depicts him as being neglectful of his family and, particularly, of his wife, Phyllis (an underused Lauren Graham).

And it’s much too dour for its own good. Until the final 40 minutes or so, it’s practically humorless.

That puts a tremendous burden on Kinnear, who’s better when he’s doing a comedy-and-drama combo.

To be fair, we probably care more about Kearns because it’s him playing the character.

And in support, Alan Alda is terrific as one of the attorneys Kearns uses in his lengthy legal battle.

“Flash of Genius” is rated PG13 for scattered strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called “R-rated” curse word), some suggestive language and references (slang), and brief drug content and references (various mood-affecting medications). Running time: 118 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.