Father Of Invention
Under usual circumstances a story about redemption is fairly certain to find some degree of acceptance with the audience. We have all strayed from the ideal, righteousness and the thought that forgiveness is a distinct possibility of absolution and personal restoration is extremely appealing. Sure in most tales of this nature a certain amount of penitence is to be expected but after that moral depot has been paid our expectations are that life could be back on track. Stories such of this are firmly rooted in folklore, mythology, news accounts and the Bible but there are circumstances that must be present for a story like this to succeed. First the audience has to be in the proper social frame of mind to extend the requisite empathy capable of generating pathos in the audience. Then, of course, the structure and presentation of the story has to be such that it can present a personal plight in a favorable fashion to those expecting to be entertained. While the film ‘Father of invention’ the components are present but in a form of anti-synergism the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There are several contributory factors that contributed to the short comings of this film which will be considered in turn but the more subtle, underlying reason lies in the premise, it is the wrong time and place to give the audience the kind of protagonist at the heart of this story.
The main character is a billionaire who hawked a product that maimed a significant number of its users. The redemption comes in after serving the terms of his incarceration he fully expects to pick up his life where he left off. This is the traditional parameters that define the redemption story but the problem is contained in the vast wealth of the central character. With protests on Wall Street striking out against corporate greed and the uncaring attitude of the wealthiest one percent of the population this story suffers from an audience that is hard pressed to generate any concern for someone like this. Even though this film was made long before the decision to occupy the holy land of fiscal irresponsibility, Wall Street, the seeds of this resentment were sown long before the current news cycle. Many of the members of the audience have been adversely affected by the recent economic collapse. This situation has been directly attributed to the shameful excesses in the upper strata of the corporate world. It is extremely difficult to get an audience to care about a billionaire responsible for physically maiming hard working people.
Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey) was a billionaire who built his financial empire selling a myriad of items on those late night infomercials we all have uncounted on sleepless nights. Things were going pretty well that is until a design flaw in one item had the nasty habit of amputating a finger from the user. Needless to say the result was both civil and criminal actions that resulted in a loss of a sizable portion of his wealth and eight years behind bars. At least the time was spent in a maximum security prison not some more comfortable white collar correctional facility. As a mandatory condition of his parole Axle must demonstrate a stable home environment and looks to his understandably estranged daughter Claire (Camilla Belle). The trouble is she wants nothing to do with him. This reaction is exacerbated by the fact that Claire is living with an extremely supportive and exceptionally protective roommate Phoebe (Heather Graham) who is demined to keep him from further destroying her life. Misery is heaped upon indignity as Axel dons the cheerful golden vest of a big box store grunt and has to contend with his much younger new boss Troy (Johnny Knoxville) as well as dodging the constant assault of verbal barbs from his spiteful ex-wife, Lorraine (Virginia Madsen). The plot is simplistic enough to make for a good enough comedy but this is exactly where the flick begins to derail. The cast is superb, far better than the resultant movie deserves. The majority of the main cast has proven many times over that they can breathe life into the oddest characters imaginable. Instead these experienced actors are given little to work with so that even their considerable talents are stretched to the breaking point, hampered by a screenplay consistently replaces characters with caricatures. The prime example of this is lies with Me. Spacey. He is a true renaissance man in the modern world of entertainment. Not only has he mastered every possible genre from light comedy to the most emotionally intense drama he has been highly regarded as a standup comedian, impressionist, theater impresario and singer. This man brought the heinous criminal Keyser Söze to life and provided the most deliciously evil Lex Luthor to the screen. His pair of Academy Awards gives testimony to his talent yet here he was relegated to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. His performance here as the stringy haired Axel is the one thing you can watch effectively here.
Trent Cooper directed and co-authored the screenplay here. I am all for a filmmaker wanting to expand the scope of his oeuvre but the only other feature film experience was with the lamentable ‘Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector’. If the film was a zany slapstick comedy it would have fared much better. Forcing the film to assume the burden of connecting on an emotional plane with the audience was beyond the current range of Me. Cooper. He managed to attract a great cast so perhaps under different circumstances he can work towards the change he focus he seems to desire. There is nothing sympathetic in Axel for Spacey to use connect with the audience. Even the cut throat salesman John Williamson in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ was more likable. He needed room to infuse a touch of Lester Burnham into the role to provide a relatable center to the character. This just comes across as a ploy to soften the public opinion of the most hated men in America today, the rich who exploit the poor. Ironically there is a recent television series that looks at a similar situation from the financially stranded daughter’s point of view but at least had to good sense to play it as a comedy. ‘Father of Invention’ might have made a reasonable sit com but once any form of drama was required it fell down faster than the Dow Jones.