A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this independent comedy follows Kevin Spacey as a disgraced inventor of infomercial goods. There's nothing particularly compelling in the plot to attract younger audiences, although some teens might be interested in seeing MTV star Johnny Knoxville or Joe Jonas' ex Camilla Belle. There are some mature themes in the movie -- about fraud, parent-child relationships, money squandering -- but the sexuality is limited to a couple of kisses and references to lesbian sex and second husbands, and the language is standard PG-13 fare like "a--hole" and "s--t." There aren't too many life lessons to be learned, but on the bright side viewers will be very unlikely to buy anything "as seen on TV" in the near future.
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What's the story?
Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey) was once the king of the infomercial -- the kind of persuasive salesman who can get audiences to buy unnecessary things in just three easy installments. After he goes to prison for eight years, he emerges convinced he can return to the world of "as seen on TV" inventions, but he's met with a few setbacks: his ex-wife (Virginia Madsen) has remarried and squandered their entire fortune; his daughter Claire (Camilla Belle) doesn't want to deal with him; and his new boss (Johnny Knoxville) doesn't care if he was a billionaire -- he just needs the floors mopped. After Claire reluctantly agrees to let Robert move in, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with her antagonistic lesbian roommate, Phoebe (Heather Graham) and tries to get a new invention funded.
Is it any good?
This is a remarkably unfunny film. For a so-called comedy, there are virtually no laughs save for a couple of forgettable one-liners from Craig Robinson, who plays Robert's ex-wife's new husband. Spacey is given free rein to chew up the scenery in salesman mode, but his character is so pathetic he's hard to root for or care about in any way. His relationship with Phoebe is predictable and cringe-worthy (although Graham's portrayal of the stereotypical lesbian gym teacher is amusing for at least a couple of scenes).
It's hard to watch such a capable cast in such a disappointing project, but it just goes to show that even a talented ensemble can't save a film from an underwhelming script and formulaic plot. The premise couldn't be more relevant -- particularly after two infomercial kings have died tragically shrouded in controversy -- but the story is about as sophisticated as Snuggie. It's too bad a director like Jason Reitman didn't tackle the subject; it would have been infinitely better than Trent Cooper's laughable attempt.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how consumerism is depicted in the movie. Do audiences really need the items Axle was creating? How does he convince them to buy the stuff? Do we do that in our own lives as shoppers?
What is the movie's message about balancing work and family? How did Axle's first try at success affect his relationship with his daughter? How does he change after his release from prison?