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The Family Tree / Father of Invention



I mean you, "The Family Tree." In director Vivi Friedman's debut, Hope Davis ("Real Steel") shines — but only because she's Hope Davis — as Bunnie, the bitchy, spoiled, unfaithful wife to nerdish Jack (Dermot Mulroney, "J. Edgar") and unloving mother to a Bible-beating, gun-crazy son (Max Thieriot, "My Soul to Take") and a slutty daughter (Brittany Robertson, "Scream 4").

Bunnie busts open her head on the bathroom floor while trysting with the next-door neighbor (Chi McBride, TV's "Human Target"), and wakes up such an amnesiac that she plays the part of perfect spouse. Redemption is not long-lasting, of course, mostly because TV scribe Mark Lisson's script has no idea where to go. Subplots are set up, then not acted upon; characters are introduced, then not fleshed-out. The one consistent plot element is a dead jock hanging in — title alert! — the family tree unnoticed by all but the viewer, who can't wait for the corpse to succumb to gravity, signaling the predictable end.

Read the rules above again, and add a new one: That goes triple if Heather Graham has weaseled her way into the cast. I mean you, "Father of Invention."

It, too, is a tiresome tale of would-be redemption, this time by Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey, "Horrible Bosses"), a former infomercial superstar trying to patch things up and Make Things Right with his daughter (Camilla Belle, "Push") after a several-year stint in prison for faulty products; he's already lost his wife (Virginia Madsen, "Red Riding Hood") to one of his card-carrying fans (Craig Robinson, TV's "The Office").

Despite another talented cast, look behind the curtain for a more accurate read on what you're in for: director/co-writer Trent Cooper, the man who gave the world "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector." Granted, "Father of Invention" may be several rungs higher in terms of performances, it idles on that flick's level of intelligence and entertainment, which is to say shockingly minimal. It's a waste of time. —Rod Lott

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