Wipin' up the competition

Flash of Genius, an underdog fights big business story, is well done but depressing
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REVIEW Little man fights big business — you've seen this story before. But that doesn't mean it's not effective when done right. There may be a formula to Flash of Genius, but in this case it works. Greg Kinnear stars as real-life inventor Bob Kearns, who developed electronic intermittent windshield wipers. (You're probably not all that impressed, but just try driving through a storm without them.) After Ford Motor Company steals and markets his idea, Kearns spends the next 12 years fighting for recognition. That long trudge through bureaucracy is portrayed as brave, yes, but also endlessly frustrating. In fact, the success of Flash of Genius relies on its ability to inflict some ambiguity on a cliché-ridden genre. Even lawyers who say things like "I believe in what I do; I believe in a little thing called justice," get fed up with Kearns' unflinching idealism. He may be the Mr. Smith of car parts, but he's also a stubborn pain in the ass. His wife moves on, his kids grow resentful, and the "Is it all worth it?" question lingers throughout. It's no wonder the film ends not with life-affirming sunlight but a torrential downpour: for an underdog story, it's kind of depressing.

FLASH OF GENIUS opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

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