Colorless exposition and a lack of imagination or wit stall “Father of Invention” at the starting gate. The would-be comedy stars Kevin Spacey as a charismatic fabricator of dual-purpose gadgets who emerges from an eight-year prison stint sans millions, home, car, wife or daughter. Heather Graham sparks some welcome flashes of humor and genuine interaction, but the pic never shakes off its creaky buildup until late in the home stretch. Anchor Bay release opens Oct. 14 and looks unlikely to extend its limited run.
Pic opens with a revved-up infomercial in which Robert Axel (Spacey) pitches products to a wildly enthusiastic audience in his high-rise corporate headquarters. But the film’s comic tone seems off, the grandiosity of the spiel neither ingenious enough to seem clever nor ridiculous enough to generate laughs. Indeed, throughout, helmer Trent Cooper (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector”) waffles between heroic and comic visions of his protagonist; immediately after the scene of his triumphant reign come images of his subsequent fall, as Axel exits the slammer looking like a long-haired bum. If a brontosaurus-shaped nightlight/humidifier or a combined camera/pepper-sprayer made Axel a beloved household name, his ab-cruncher/channel-surfer/inadvertent finger-chopper turned it into a synonym for infamy.
Following his release, Axel visits his ex-wife (Virginia Madsen), a would-be chanteuse whose obsession with stardom is matched by a singular lack of talent. She ranks as just the first in a long line of people who have profited from his fall. Such is not the case with his daughter, Claire (a lovely but somewhat bland Camilla Belle), whose love he sacrificed to his workaholic megalomania. Axel’s road to redemption soon becomes clear: He must regain the affection of his daughter and re-establish the worth of his work — in that order, natch.
As Axel struggles to rebuild his daughter’s trust and his brilliant career, he ropes in old and new acquaintances, all of whom are reborn through their interactions with him. His daughter’s two roomies (Graham and Anna Anissimova) are miraculously “cured” of lesbianism and insecurity, respectively, and a host of exploited little people get to stretch their wings and assume their rightful places in society. Axel himself appears poised to regain his kingdom, until an egregious bit of moral rug-pulling.
Pic actually gathers some momentum, if little credibility, as it sweeps toward its conclusion, its awkwardly established elements finally coalescing with a measure of technical ease.