Synopsis: Millionaire infomercial guru, Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey) loses everything when one of his inventions has a design flaw that accidentally chops off the fingers of thousands of customers. After serving eight years in prison, a disgraced Axle is released, and ready to redeem his name and rebuild his empire with a new innovation. However, Axleâs ex-wife (Virginia Madsen) has spent all of his money and moved into his house with her new husband (Craig Robinson). Out of desperation, he finds a part-time job as a janitor, and is forced to move in with his estranged daughter (Camilla Belle) and her over-protective roommates. Despite these setbacks he is determined to pitch his newest gadget and rebuild his infomercial empire. But the world has changed in the last decade, and Axle finds himself out of step with current technology, his family, and the self-confidence that made him king of the infomercials in the past. With all his wheels spinning, Axle soon realizes before he can be successful with his new creation, first he must reinvent himself.
Release Date: October 14, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Comedy
Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey) has just been released from Federal Prison early for good behavior. His appearance is scruffy, with long mangy hair, a dirt-smudged face, and beard that rivals the crazy man on the street corner who screams the end is near. The suit Robert is wearing cost him three-thousand dollars–Robert Axle used to be a man with it all; he is now a felon without money, a career, or the respect of his family and love of his daughter.
Robert’s story began ten years ago when he was a successful fabricator. A fabricator is an individual who takes two products, or inventions, and melds them together to create a new item for public sale. For example, a camera and pepper spray combination to create a “pepper spray camera” so you can photograph your attacker while immobilizing him/her with pepper spray. Robert Axle built a multi-million dollar company out of his fabricated ideas, but one fabrication brought it all to an end, the “ab clicker.” When people started putting their fingers where they should not, and losing those fingers in the process, Robert was found guilty of a ridiculously named felony and sent to prison. His assets, or half of in the divorce from his wife Lorraine (Virginia Madsen), all went to the victims. His daughter Claire (Camilla Belle) wants nothing to do with him even if he is sleeping on her couch, and his new job at the Family Discount Mart is not working out as planned–he was fired by Manager Troy (Johnny Knoxville) on his first full day. Robert Axle used to have it all, now he is struggling to rebuild his relationships and career.
Father of Invention is a sweet, simple film that showcases a man’s attempts at redemption in the eyes of his family, as well as the public. Led by the extremely talented Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) it pleasantly surprises you with the gentle nature of the storytelling. Robert is a man set to make changes who cannot completely let go of his past habits, and slight desperation, to make the impact he needs to on his daughter Claire. With the help of Claire’s roommates he manages to make some headway, but constantly (and humorously at times) hits a bump, or two. It does not help matters that he is also trying to rebuild his fabricating career in an environment where his name is poison–or perhaps it does help the comedic side of the film. Father of Invention is not the strongest of films, nor does it have a distinct and original message to tell as the story is quite generic. But it does have the sweetness factor down to a tee, and the likability of Kevin Spacey’s Robert and Heather Graham’s roommate Phoebe provide just enough of a deviation from the unoriginal plot points, and predictability of the story itself, to make Father of Invention enjoyable.
The leading performance in Father of Invention is that of Kevin Spacey as Robert Axle. Bridging the gap between self-assured infomercial guru who can sell anything to anyone and down-on-his-luck felon, Spacey performs at his greatest peak even with a less than amazingly written character. Spacey manages to create empathy from the viewer as the father who wants nothing more than to be a part of his child’s life. From the simple act of hanging a picture on the wall to the brief flashbacks of Robert and Claire when she was a child you see through Spacey’s performance the greater depth of Robert than simply his TV-ready smile and smart speeches. He also subtly delivers the humor of the story, be it through the written lines of his character or a defeated look on his face.
As for supporting characters, and there are quite a few, everyone plays off of one another as needed, but it is Heather Graham (Boogie Nights) that really makes Father of Invention more than conventional acting fodder. Graham plays Phoebe, a brash tough lesbian who is not exactly set on being a lesbian. Phoebe is confused, as we discover when she and Robert face her ex-boyfriend, and spark romantic feelings of their own. Phoebe provides a great deal of the comic relief in Father of Invention; be it her asking if Robert wants to get hit in the face or the groin (edited for content purposes) after meddling with her fish or showcasing her teaching abilities with her gym students. Graham’s capabilities at comedy can be seen in every scene she has in Father of Invention, and it is with her that much of the comedy shines through to the viewer.
There is also Virginia Madsen’s Lorraine, an obtuse character, becoming larger than the character needs to be in the film. Madsen manages to play the part, and make the viewer annoyed at her decisions, wardrobe choices, and all-around personality almost immediately upon meeting her–she is the ex-wife after all, so liking her was never an option. Johnny Knoxville’s Troy makes the most of his small appearance as the Bargain store manager, happily playing a less than goofy, and far from his Jackass days of gross-out humor character. Even Craig Robinson makes an appearance as Lorraine’s new husband Jerry, a man who has a fond adoration for Robert’s inventions, with comedic results. The only weak link in Father of Invention is Camilla Belle’s performance as Claire. Belle does not do anything with the character of Claire and the emotional ups-and-downs of the character are as flat as possible. Her tone of voice is that of a weeping, swallowed up little girl, not a grown woman who as started her own business and fighting for it to succeed. As such a large part of Father of Invention‘s story, the character of Claire is in great need of more presence and fortitude from Camilla Belle. It is unfortunate that she does not deliver, making the supporting cast more important and memorable.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Trent CooperKia JamJonathan D. Krane
- Producer(s): Jason SciaviccoJonathan D. KraneTrent Cooper
- Screenwriter(s): Kevin Spacey (Robert Axle)Camilla Belle (Claire Axle)Heather Graham (Phoebe)
- Story: Johnny Knoxville (Troy Coangelo)
- Cast: Anna Anissimova (Donna)John Stamos (Steven Leslie)Red West (Sam Bergman) Michael Rosenbaum (Eddie the Ex)Danny Comden (Matt James)Virginia Madsen (Lorraine)Craig Robinson (Jerry King)Heather PersonsSteve YedlinJoseph T. Garrity
- Cinematographer: Nick Urata
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA