A wise man once said “any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children”. That wise man was Lawrence Fishburne in Boyz n the Hood. I thought about that as Gary frantically Googled “morning after pill”. Of course, I would have thought that after an encounter with his ex, Penelope, he would be Googling “penicillin”, but the man has his priorities.
When I heard of Father of Invention, and its quirky premise which cast Spacey as a disgraced Ron Popeil-style infomercial guru, I was intrigued. I immediately added it to Gary’s Netflix queue. It arrived soon after. However, the crippling loneliness that Gary personified threatened to leave the DVD stranded in a pile of mail-order pornography catalogs and past-due bill notices.
Edgar, Penelope’s brother and Gary’s one-time roommate, had recently been sentenced to a 180 day stay in county lockup for a DUI with “extenuating circumstances”. Knowing Gary would remain immobile unless properly motivated, I e-mailed Penelope from his account to request she come by and pick up the box of Japanese tentacle fetish videos Edgar had left behind.
When she arrived, Gary attributed not remembering sending the mail to one of the many blackouts he had been encountering, but he knew exactly what box she had come to retrieve. He offered her “one for the road”, which in Gary parlance could be interpreted as consuming a full day’s supply of vitamin Booze. Thus the first of many bottles he had purchased from Slurring Earl’s Discount Liquor Bunker was cracked.
Penelope and Gary argue at a very precise frequency, one which I have developed the ability to tune out with great effectiveness. They fell back into old habits rather quickly, popping the movie into the DVD player to serve as the background noise for an epic throw-down of accusations, blame, suicide threats, and reconciliations.
Father of Invention began with promise, with Kevin Spacey pitching odd ball “Fabrications”. They’re not necessarily new inventions, but rather combinations of existing things into new applications. After the amusement of this opening sequence, I found my enjoyment being ground up in the gears of the very obvious mechanics at work in the story.
It’s one of those plots that’s been done to death, but if you were to hold a gun to my crotch and threaten to pull the trigger unless I came up with one example that was done in an original, un-hackey way, I would be visiting the ER that night with a bullet wound to my nethers. It’s the old “disgraced dad has to earn the love of his estranged daughter” story, and “Father of Invention” executes it with a cut-and-paste precision that makes the writers of “Hangover 2” look like William Burroughs.
In these stories, the daughter is typically undertaking some humanitarian cause that she resents the dad for not understanding: check.
The dad has to undergo a physical transformation, typically in the quest to appear more youthful and hip: check.
He has to learn about his daughter from her quirky friends: check.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know there’s nothing new under the sun. Every movie follows a formula. But the trick is to hide it. The ones that can’t still have their place. It’s called the Lifetime network. This story would play as a lovely lighthearted tale to balance out an airing of Mother May I Sleep with Danger. It’s the kind of movie that is so sappy it seems like they added the word “tits” just to give it an “edge”. The Carrot Top movie Chairman of the Board was more edgy than this flick.
But the schmaltzy quality of the film was not lost on Tweedle Drunk and Tweedle Drunker. Some of the dialogue appeared to hit home, and her attacks on his masculinity, growing more drunken by the minute, gave way to declarations that her dad was just like Spacey’s character, Robert Axel. Her dad was also consumed with his job when she was a child. He mistook material wealth for emotional fulfillment.
Around the time that Spacey’s character reached his lowest point, embarrassing his daughter at one of those charity galas that only exist in movies like this, the combination of Kiwi-Lime Mad Dog 20/20 and daddy issues created a gravity that neither could ignore, and the former lovers were former no more. And right there on the couch.
While I’ve never been able fully tune out the awkward grunts and whispered apologies of a Gary/Penelope lovemaking session, I can say that these events are mercifully brief. I would have preferred one of their rare prolonged engagements to the remainder of this film. I coveted that sweet unconsciousness they soon fell into like it was the One True Ring. Precious, precious ignorance of the existence of this film is what I sought. Instead, I was treated to Johnny Knoxville playing a lovable goofball, Heather Graham as miscast as she’s ever been, and John Stamos. John frigging Stamos.
Father of Invention shattered my long-standing rule that there is no such thing as a bad Kevin Spacey movie. I woke up the next morning hoping that it could all be made better with one magical pill. But there’s no morning after pill for a movie so saccharin sweet with good intentions. It doesn’t want to hurt anybody. After so much time with Gary and Penelope, maybe that’s the problem I have with it.