Huckster Makes a Late-life Conversion to Family Man in Father of Invention


It is an unquestioned truism of recent American movies from Marmaduke to The Descendants that working hard at a job is tantamount to child neglect. Father of Invention brings another self-centered patriarch in for his comeuppance. Robert Axel (Kevin Spacey) was once a star “fabricator” and king of infomercials but lost it all when one of his portmanteau inventions, a sit-up machine/remote control, resulted in an epidemic of lopped-off fingers. Axel emerges from federal prison at the beginning of Father of Invention; looking up his daughter, Claire (Camilla Belle, in a feeble performance), it is revealed that Robert hasn’t been much of a father otherwise. The rather unappealing character of Axel is indulged with every opportunity for redemption, as Spacey is indulged with every opportunity to showboat. As Axel crosses swords with the manager (Johnny Knoxville) at his parolee job at Family Mart, Claire’s contentious roommate (Heather Graham), and his ex-wife (Virginia Madsen), Spacey tees off with his trademark perturbed, hovering line-readings. As Axel learns the value of family and starts dressing like a 2002 prototype hipster—white belt and all—we get soft, wistful Spacey instead: “I was convicted of gross negligence for a product . . . but what I’m really guilty of is gross negligence as a father.”