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Flash of Genius


Stars: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Alan Alda, Dermot Mulroney, Mitch Pileggi, Bill Smitrovitch

Director: Marc Abraham

This David and Goliath story would make a great TV documentary, but strains to make it as a two-hour film. College lecturer and part-time inventor Dr Robert Kearns (Kinnear) dreams up an 'intermittent' windscreen wiper that reacts to the amount of rain for its frequency. He takes it to the Ford motor company, who are initially enthusiastic about the idea, and encourage Kearns to set up his own manufacturing warehouse.

A few months later, Kearns' lawyer (Mulroney) tells him that Ford are out - leaving Kearns financially in the lurch. Shortly after that, the company brings out its own wipers - clearly based on the doctor's invention.

The rest of the film describes his 13-year struggle to prove the giant auto company has stolen his idea. His wife (Graham) leaves him - although his six children still support him - and he has a breakdown.

Graham is too sympathetic an actress to make the wife's defection entirely viable, but the film rests for its impact on its central character, who resists all Ford's offers, even an out-of-court settlement, to prove himself right.

This is the kind of role that, decades ago, James Stewart might have turned into a tour-de-force, but Kinnear, though a good and likeable actor, lacks the strength of personality to rivet us to the drama. The cost to the man, though, is all too clear, and you have to ask yourself: was it really worth it?

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Optimum (Universal/Spyglass). Colour by deluxe.
121 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 16 Mar 2009