Father of Invention (2011)

November 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Heather Graham and Kevin Spacey rock out in "Father of Invention"

Written by John D. Krane and Trent Cooper
Directed by Trent Cooper

Starring Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Johnny Knoxville, Anna Annisimova, Virginia Madsen, Craig Robinson and John Stamos

Father of Invention is a small comedy about big ideas and even bigger money. It’s fitting that in an economic climate such as ours, a timely comedy about entrepreneurship, business failure and reinventing one’s self would fall on blind eyes and deaf ears for the bulk of the movie going public.

Kevin Spacey stars as Robert Axle, a larger than life, corporatized version of all those infomercial heavyweights we’ve seen come and go, such as Vince Shlomi, the Sham Wow and Slap-Chop guy, as well as King of Pitch Men, Billy Mays (RIP). Spacey is a clean-cut white-collar version of those heavy weights and runs an empire worth billions of dollars. He’s like a soulless Steve Jobs (also RIP) for the kitsch home appliance market.

One day Axle invents an abdominal cruncher-slash remote control chair so one can exercise and watch television at the same time, but it has a flaw, which removes users’ fingers. The ensuing lawsuits and legal quandries puts Axle in jail for a few years and decimates his vast fortune, except for the half of it his wife (Virginia Madsen) took in the divorce, to go with her new husband (Craig Robinson), a friendly park ranger.

Needless to say, when Axle comes out of jail, he’s not a changed man, otherwise we’d have no movie. No, he wants his old life back and he wants it back the only way he knows how; to invent a useless but appealing and cheaply made product that will make him millions of dollars and will probably be forgotten about in someone’s toy bin or garage rather quickly. In order to do this he needs money and an established residence, both of which he turns to his estranged daughter (Camilla Belle) for.

Camilla is of course the antithesis of her father, a non-materialistic free spirit trying to save the world, living in colorful hippie house with a spitfire lesbian (Heather Graham in a scene stealing performance) and an innocent sweet heart (newcomer Anna Annisimova). Will the girls teach him the error of his ways? Will he screw them over because it’s his nature? Stay tuned to find out!

Father of Invention plays all the familiar beats of a dramedy about an ignorant person learning valuable, if patently obvious life lessons. Spacey is his usual droll, delightful self, spinning his conman words while presenting a repressed sugar and syrup father figure yearning to get out and make up for years of neglect and selfishness. Camille Belle plays her part adamantly, but there are no surprises to her character. Johnny Knoxville shows up somewhat randomly as Spacey’s anal-retentive supervisor at his parole appointed job and manages to play the character surprisingly low key and straight for a guy known primarily as a ‘jackass’.

All in all, despite the familiar beats and cookie cutter characters, Father of Invention is an enjoyable way to burn an hour and a half of your life. Thankfully it’s not as cheap or kitschy as the products or tropes the story is based around. This is thanks entirely to the sharp and earnest performances from the actors, who elevate the potentially bland material above sitcom situational comedy into something a little more erudite and clever. Co-writer and director Trent Cooper does not have a clever game changing style of writing or directing, but it’s quite astute in the most economical of ways and he appears to know how to get the best performances out of his actors, the potential weak spots of the material be damned.

Father of Invention is clearly too low key for traditional movie theater distribution, but don’t mistake its dubious lack of marketing or presence at the multiplexes for deficiency of quality, for it’s a treat to anybody who wants to give it a chance. Just know going in it’s as shiny and appealing but equally as disposable as the products it sends up.

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