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"Father of Invention" proves strikingly uninventive

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Comedies don’t get much more unfunny than “Father of Invention,” a lame and somewhat preachy comic take on a father trying to get back into his daughter’s good graces. Thanks to a cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham and Camilla Belle, the film manages eventually to achieve some emotional oomph, but getting to those points is a hard slog. So despite that cast, commercial opportunities appear limited to home entertainment.

The film -- a selection of the Berlin International Film Festival -- falls flat right from the opening shots. A television infomercial introduces you to a wealthy entrepreneur, played by Spacey, who is a “fabricator,” someone who combines other people’s inventions into popular consumer products. But one such product causes serious injuries to consumers, which somehow results in an eight-year prison term.

Now he’s out and broke, and wants to get back on his feet with new inventions. More important, he wants to reclaim the love of his estranged daughter (Belle), whom he neglected when she was a youngster. First, though, he has to get past a doubtful parole officer, dubious employers and his daughter’s man-hating roommate (Graham).

All this comes at you like an infomercial with actors pitching one-note characters like so many automatic dicing machines. The stridency of the acting is at the level of a bad TV sitcom, with no depth or shadings to any of the characters.

Indeed, most of the roles -- the ex-wife (Virginia Madsen), her new husband (Craig Robinson), his new employer (Johnny Knoxville) -- are mere caricatures. The film loses some of its stridency as time passes but not enough to save the comedy.

Writer-director Trent Cooper (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector”) fumbles away too many scenes by straining for laughs. Most of the gags misfire, but the larger problem is that even a comedy doesn’t require gags in every scene. Enough already.

There are moments between Spacey and Graham that almost get at something real -- yet, surprisingly, not so with Spacey and Belle. A second roommate, played by Anna Anissimova, starts out as one of the film’s more interesting personalities, then turns into a plot gimmick. And so it goes.

Tech credits are pro but undistinguished, as the production doesn’t get nearly enough value out of its New Orleans locations.