Many of us find ourselves watching infomercials late at night because they are entertaining; we are invested to the point of paying attention, yet wouldn’t mind changing the channel mid-way to see what else is on. The similarities between the everyday infomercial and Father of Invention are evident in it’s storytelling. Very clear and routine, the film holds the audience’s hand throughout it’s entirety, guiding us through the screenplay. Written and directed by Trent Cooper, Father of Invention should get attention for its originality in theme, although slightly predictable in execution. This is the story of millionaire infomercial-guru Robert Axle’s comeback, after the product that made him millions inadvertently injures the consumer, leaving him hopeless. Aided by his daughter, Axle begins his journey of self reflection and change, as he gets his priorities in order.
The film’s opening sequence is great, capturing Robert Axel, played by Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty) at the height of his career. He is filming an infomercial spot in front of a live studio audience, encouraging their “oohs” and “ahhs” with his latest and greatest inventions, or as he calls them “fabrications.” Everything from a dinosaur nightlight/humidifier to a pepper-spray/digital camera (with the slogan: “Now you can defend yourself and photograph your assailant at the same time!”) is presented to the audience in an exagerated fashion. The studio cheers for Axel’s newest fabrication, the Robert Axel Ab-Clicker, which is part ab workout/part television remote control. He exclaims, “Now you can channel surf and work those six pack abs all at the same time!” Unfortunately, this invention that was supposed to skyrocket him to the top does exactly the opposite, it inadvertently chops the fingers off those who hold it the wrong way. This is what begins Axel’s decent from multi-millionare, Mr. have-it-all, to ex-convict, divorcee.
Kevin Spacey plays the dramatic role well. From Pay it Forward to American Beauty, he is one of those gifted actors who can capture an audience, by having them sympathize with his character. His portrayal of Robert Axel seems like a complete 180 from his previous actor repatouir. Father of Invention pushes the boundaries of his comedic ability, both emotionally and physically. I’m not saying he is not convincing as a funny man, but there is a scene where Axel gets punched in the face and falls off of a bus, as if it were a cartoon. We see Spacey’s body fly from the bus, legs parallel to the ground and overall charactarure of a “funny” accident. My first reaction was fear of a broken back, but it must not have been too painful, for in the next scene he is completely fine.
Spacey’s personality shines as Axel, in most scenes he is the only aura of positivity. When Axel is released from prison after reckless endangerment to consumers from his latest fabrication gone wrong, he has no where to go. His once mansion is now occupied by his ex-wife Lorraine, played charasmatically by Virginia Madsen. His role of her husband has also been replaced by scene stealer Craig Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine) and the duo are consistantly relied upon to bring the laughs throughout the film. Axel ultimately ends up at his daughter’s home, where he is given a one month ultimatium to change. His daughter Claire, played by the beautiful Camilla Belle (From Prada to Nada, When a Stranger Calls) is very unwelcoming to her father and insensitive a little too early on in the film. It is about ten minutes in, we are still rooting for Axel at this point, we’re on his side and feel sorry that he got dealt a rough hand. At this point, Claire’s stiffness as his daughter is a turn off, her attitude coupled with the attitudes of her overprotective roommates played by Heather Graham (Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and Anna Anissimova (The Whistleblower) leave the audience wanting Axel to move on and find a new place to live.
In general, movies are made for the audience to escape reality; Father of Invention does serve that purpose. It is easy and entertaining, one doesn’t need to over invest in its plot to enjoy the film. There is a good lesson embedded in the film, one that should be recognized and applauded. HINT: Be sure to stay for the credits to hear a beautiful duet by Madsen and Robinson, aptly titled “Tap That Ass.”