Michael Douglas, left, with Danny DeVito, plays an aging lothario doing whatever he can to avoid reality. (Anchor Bay Films)
Ben Kalmen is running from death by doing everything wrong.
Six years ago, Kalmen (Michael Douglas) owned a host of car dealerships in the northeast; he was happily married to Nancy (Susan Sarandon) and had the respect of his daughter, Susan (Jenna Fischer). Then a doctor told him he needed some tests done on his heart, and suddenly his own looming mortality drove Ben to distraction.
Most of those distractions turned out to be of the female variety, but Ben also managed to break the law and lose all his car dealerships, as well as his marriage and the respect of just about everyone he's ever known.
In "Solitary Man," Ben is still doing everything he can to avoid reality. He's got a new girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker), who has the power to help him reconnect to the business world. She just needs one favor -- can he take her lovely daughter (a slick Imogen Poots) to his alma mater and put in a good word with the dean?
Sending Ben back to the scene of his youthful conquests with a young girl in tow seems like a recipe for disaster -- and it is. Soon enough, Ben is going for his doctorate in messing up.
The desperation and narcissism behind Ben's every move keeps "Solitary Man" in cringe-drama territory; you never really like Ben or admire him. The best you can muster up is pity for the guy as his façade steadily crumbles.
Unfortunately, this gives the film something of a one-note range -- you realize early on the guy has a problem, then you just watch that problem get worse. Douglas does the angst-ridden, aging lover thing very well -- think back to "Wonder Boys" -- but the empty guy at the beginning of this movie is pretty much the same empty guy by its end.
The question is: Why would anybody care about him?