FLASH OF GENIUS

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Posted October 3, 2008 in Film

As Ralph Nader learned, it’s tough to make car safety stimulating. Consider engineering professor and basement inventor Bob Kearns, who after blinding his left eye in a honeymoon champagne cork fiasco, was inspired to invent the intermittent windshield wiper. Played by Greg Kinnear (today’s go-to actor for men in cheap suits), Kearns was a dreamer who became a kicked dog. When he smiles during the early scenes of Marc Abraham’s biopic, we’re already dreading what comes next: His idea is stolen by Ford and Chrysler, his patents are trashed, and his quest to get the big guys to acknowledge his brilliance costs him his family, job, 26 years, and $10 million in legal fees (even though he represented himself). Philip Railsback’s script, based on the New Yorker article by John Seabrook, follows the formula—we can guess every plot point, but are left guessing about Kearns himself, who as the years drag on progresses from motivational to monomaniacal. When wife Phyllis (Lauren Graham) leaves, taking their brood of six, the truth of Kearns’ life registers as little more than a narrative obligation. Still, corporate conspiracists (myself included) have a high tolerance for films that take pot shots at The Man, even if like this, it’s less a sock to the jaw than a fumbled graze. (Amy Nicholson)


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