Flash of Genius” is a doggedly workmanlike variation of an old story: the lone crusader doing battle with the big bad establishment. Picture Jimmy Stewart as a passionately outraged everyman speaking truth to power, then take away the passion.
What gives the movie a frisson of freshness is that the little guy is based on an actual person, Dr. Robert W. Kearns (Greg Kinnear), an electrical engineer and college professor who in the late 1960s invented and patented the intermittent windshield wiper.
After he presented his invention to the major Detroit automakers, Ford demanded a sample unit, then adopted his system without paying him or giving him credit. He ultimately sued Ford and then Chrysler for patent infringement.
The story backtracks to his days in his basement tinkering on the invention, which he and his skittish business partner, Gil (Dermot Mulroney), hope will make them rich.
Those dreams are dashed when Ford suddenly and suspiciously loses interest. The final moment of truth arrives when he crashes a Ford dealers convention at which the Mustang is unveiled with the intermittent wiper as a prominent selling point.
From then on his pursuit of recognition for an invention he calls his Mona Lisa is relentless.
Photo by Universal Pictures.