Dir: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Anchor Bay Films
There is something off-kilter about a Michael Douglas vehicle in 2010. Just like the return of Mel Gibson earlier this year in The Edge of Darkness, Douglas’ man out of time performance in Solitary Man isn’t only unsettling, but doesn’t fit in this day and age. But if we’re going to stick with maxims, there’s that one about teaching old dogs new tricks.
This is what I mean: both Mel and Michael went off the map for awhile but when they returned, they both picked roles as if neither has been absent from leading roles for a decade. Gibson, best known for unhinged and glowering, selects a movie that calls for unhinged and glowering. And Douglas, once beloved for his rich, lecherous lizards in Fatal Attraction, Wall Street and Basic Instinct, takes a role that wants us to believe every hot 18-year-old still wants to hit that leathery ass.
In Solitary Man, Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a once powerful-New York City car salesman who has lost his business, his wife (Susan Sarandon in a throwaway role) and his money after taking part in a scam. Instead of getting his life back in order, Kalmen instead cheats on his rich girlfriend Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker in another throwaway role) with any tight-bodied woman he can sweet talk into bed. But then Kalmen must escort Jordan’s daughter (Imogen Poots, struggling with that American accent) to his alma mater in Boston for a tour and to put in a good word with the dean. Then something really shitty happens.
Despite a supporting cast that includes Sarandon, “The Office’s” Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg (putting the final nail in the coffin of virginal loser typecasting) and Danny DeVito, Solitary Man is Michael Douglas’ show. Everyone else in this film is a tiny satellite bouncing into the big bad Ben who just lets his life slip more and more out of control for a reason that is both pitiable and laughable. Admittedly, Douglas does have a commanding presence and it is good to see him back, but as his character becomes less and less likable, Solitary Man goes off the rails.
And it’s not that films about curmudgeons or unlikable protagonists are a bad thing. Recently, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino and Hal Halbrook in That Evening Sun proved otherwise. But Douglas’ reason for being such a cock is shallow, unbelievable and not worth waiting until the final minutes to uncover. Hopefully, Solitary Man is just a warm up role for the Douglas who can inhabit the skin of unlikable protagonist (Wonder Boys) and still convince us he’s human. This time he is nothing more than a contrivance.