Review: ‘SlingShot’ documentary on Segway’s Dean Kamen feels like infomercial

Dean Kamen

Entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen, pictured speaking during SXSW in 2014, is the subject of the new documentary “SlingShot.”

(Andy Pareti / Getty Images for SXSW)

Purportedly about Segway inventor Dean Kamen’s noble quest to provide clean drinking water in the developing world, the documentary “SlingShot” has about enough material to fill one interesting “60 Minutes” segment.

At feature length, though, the film feels like an infomercial pitching another Kamen contraption, a vapor compression distiller. Many scenes seem staged, with the inventor stiffly performing a day in his life for the camera crew as if this were indeed an infomercial.

Director Paul Lazarus devotes much of the running time to constructing Kamen’s cult of personality. He’s variously shown to be a Steve Jobs-type visionary, a Bill Gates-type philanthropist and a John du Pont-type eccentric. His closet of denim shirts and jeans must rival Jobs’ wardrobe of black turtlenecks.

But Segway has never fulfilled its game-changing promise the way the iPhone has. Kamen’s expensive toys, frivolous pet projects and whimsical temperament create an ever-so-slight sense of Deja vu to those who’ve seen Bennett Miller’s depiction of Du Pont in “Foxcatcher.”


Lazarus ultimately commits the sin journalists call burying the lede, rendering the SlingShot’s research, development and trials an afterthought. Perhaps to protect trade secrets, the film is scarcely substantive. The only juicy bit is how Kamen managed to secure sponsorship from the Coca-Cola Co. by first developing its Freestyle soda fountain.



No MPAA rating.


Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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