I can imagine the pitch session for Trent Cooper's satire "Father of Invention," and I'm willing to bet it was quite good. I have no doubt that you could cobble the ideas behind the film into a gut-busting parody on the age of infomercials. It's such a fantastic target as that industry exists almost solely on parodying itself. Sadly, though, the cleverness that you might expect going after such a rich and comical topic is not mined with very much efficiency in this film's screenplay. As Kevin Spacey kicks off the movie introducing some delightfully silly products, I thought we had a winner. But then the movie instantly takes you away from its funniest moments to set up a premise that I didn't believe for even one second. That's okay, though, I decided to go with the flow and see what kind of zany comic antics were in store. For my taste, though, the slapstick shenanigans and kicks to the groin didn't rate many laughs. There is a talented cast at work here: Kevin Spacey, Virginia Madsen, Heather Graham, Johnny Knoxville, Craig Robinson, and Camilla Belle. Sadly, however, the film is wildly uneven with obvious jokes and physical humor that fall flat and scenarios that don't make a lot of sense and/or aren't particularly amusing.
Spacey plays Robert Axle, a fabricator (not an inventor, but someone who puts two existing ideas together to make an even better product). Wildly successful, one of his triumphs ends up mutilating the consumers that have bought the item. The film asks us to believe that Spacey (a multi-millionaire) went to prison for eight years because of this and that his wife (Madsen) was allowed to keep half of his fortune untouched by lawsuits. Neither half of the preceding sentence was believable to me, but as it was the film's premise established in the first five minutes--I had to go with it. Apparently Spacey's corporate mismanagement was enough to have him treated like a hardened criminal and he is completely ostracized in the outside world. Still hoping for a clever comedy about how he gets back into the game, we are treated instead to a more lackluster story line of him trying to reconnect with his daughter (Belle). Of course, the movie is rife with wacky characters each more sketchily drawn than the last. When the screenplay is at a loss about how to get its next laugh (and they are few and far between), it goes for a cheap shot (aforementioned kicks to the groin, lesbian humor, slapstick pratfalls) that oftentimes have nothing to do with advancing the plot.
Eventually, the movie does get Spacey back into the business (with Knoxville as his partner in another turn of events that makes little sense). Finally hoping for some hard edged satire, the movie then wants to go soft and play out as a relationship drama. What has Spacey learned about his evil ways? And is it too late to reconnect with his daughter? At a launch party for a new idea, Spacey gives the most awkward, unprofessional and baffling speech imaginable that would absolutely be disastrous for his business partners, but (this being a movie) the crowd is rapturously enthused. Who says you can't have it all? Not funny enough by half already, any good will you might have goes south with these "lesson learned" moments.
Spacey does his best, it's nice to see him in a change-of-pace role. Knoxville in underutilized and underwriten. Madsen and especially Robinson (he's the only one I actually liked as a character) fare the best in terms of bringing a few laughs. Graham, a likable actress, is stranded in the piece's most obnoxious role. Seriously, I like all of these actors but the screenplay lets everyone down. I guess I'm still waiting for the great infomercial satire that I had hoped this would provide. Clumsy and unfunny, this takes a good idea and wants to be something for everyone when it should have attempted a scathing and hard-edged wit that befits its subject matter. A curious misfire recommended only if you are a passionate fan of one of the actors. KGHarris, 10/11.