Kerry Hayes
Lisa Schwarzbaum
October 03, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The true-story premise of Flash of Genius peddles inspiration in our time of giant, bullying corporations and despairing little guys: A despairing little guy takes on a giant, bullying corporation for patent infringement and wins. (Oops, did I give away the ending? Sue me.) Played with becoming mildness by Greg Kinnear, Robert Kearns was an engineering professor at a Michigan college who devised the intermittent windshield wiper — the mechanism that allows the driver to adjust the interval between blade swipes. After patenting his plans, he shopped them to the Ford Motor Company without reaching a licensing agreement, and later determined that Ford had stolen his invention. Kearns’ Bleak House-obsessive pursuit of justice — in which he sometimes acted as his own counsel — took 12 years. (The real Kearns, who died in 2005 at the age of 77, sued General Motors and Chrysler, too.)

The individual components of director Marc Abraham’s David-and-Goliath drama are roundly unexceptional; the script, soft and teach-y; the performances, earnest (including Alan Alda as a fair-weather lawyer who bails on the case). But that hardly matters. The product is concept, not execution, and the delivery techniques bear standard Hollywood patents. B?

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