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Father of Invention | Review

Completely Lacking In Inventiveness

The tagline for the new Kevin Spacey comedy Father of Invention reads, “A world of ideas, A world of problems,” which rather efficiently sums up the quality of the film as a whole. Unforgivably predictable, an uneven tone, and stereotypically exaggerated supporting characters aped across the screen like a parade of baboons, positions this film as one of the worst father-daughter cautionary/sappy-on-the-back-end tales you’ll most likely stumble upon this year.

Spacey stars as Robert Axle, an infamous infomercial guru and self professed “fabricator,” whose ab-slide invention causes thousands of people to accidentally cut off their fingers. After spending eight years in prison for his unsafe apparatus, Axle quickly learns that his ex-wife (Virginia Madsen) has spent his 362 million dollar fortune on a failed singing career and her new husband (Craig Robinson) while he’s forced to ask his estranged daughter (Camilla Belle) to crash at her place with her two roommates, a ditzy softie (Anna Anissimova) and an angry, sometimes-lesbian gym teacher (Heather Graham). After getting fired from his job at Family Mart by an aggressive assistant manager (a very entertaining Johnny Knoxville), Axle comes up with an idea for a new invention, seemingly surefire, but with a reputation that’s akin to Bernie Madoff’s (or so the film would have us believe with a plethora of fingerless people and peals of vicious laughter whenever his name is uttered, no matter the social setting) he must use his ex-boss’s name to get a meeting with a major company to discuss his latest invention idea. The man that owns his old company (John Stamos) refuses to help him and steal his new idea. Meanwhile, Axle becomes embroiled in building a strained relationship with his alienated daughter and develops a strange sexual tension with Heather Graham’s angry lesbian gym teacher. As the plot progresses, all the major characters learn that fathers are not perfect people.

While Spacey does his darnedest to imbue his character with some humanity, the result is a jarring disparity with the rest of the cast, as all the other characters were written to pity or utterly despise him. The animosity towards Spacey’s infomercial guru is never quite believable enough and the beef his ex-wife and daughter have against the man that resulted in them being comfortably rich for several lifetimes is shallow and silly, making this one more half boiled melodrama about rich white people problems.

With the exception of performers like Knoxville and Robinson, who obviously know something about comedic timing, the rest of the supporting cast certainly aren’t able to transcend the poorly wrought screenplay. The worst victim is a waifish Belle, whose performance is so poor here that her presence barely registers. The most offensive presence is the lesbian Graham. What’s that? A lesbian? As Spacey points out after her roommates gleefully inform him of her orientation, “I never would have guessed.” Every other scene featuring Graham makes a point to mention that she is a lesbian, or a questioning lesbian, or not really a lesbian at all but just a woman that hasn’t met the right man until Kevin Spacey makes her feel special. She’s even seen introducing herself as a lesbian at a fancy gala. Certainly unrealistically conceived and not edgy enough to be so incorrect that it’s making a statement, her sexual orientation is used for cheap laughs and one of the film’s more vulgar sight gags when she brings a butch date to a party. One could argue that a kiss scene with Spacey is infinitely more uncomfortable. Above all, Father of Invention is as forgettable as it is predictable.

Rating 2 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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