Meet Ben Kalman (Michael Douglas), New York's one "honest car dealer," a smooth-talking wheeler and dealer with a great family, a beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), a booming empire, and a sense of invincibility—on the day that all falls apart in the office of his cardiologist.
Six and a half years later, we meet Ben again, a little worse for the wear, this time in a montage that has him strutting through Manhattan, cloaked in black, to the sounds of Johnny Cash's cover of "Solitary Man." His wife is now an ex, his relationship with his daughter (Jenna Fischer) is seriously in peril and the business he built has imploded, a casualty of hubris. But thanks to Jordan, his tony new girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker), Ben is on the verge of resurrection as he accompanies her college-bound daughter, Allyson (Imogen Poots), to his alma mater so he can pull a few strings with the dean.
His trip down memory lane is at once sentimental, as he visits the bench where he first met his wife and rekindles a friendship with a former friend (Douglas' real life chum Danny DeVito), and inflammatory as the swell of emotions sends him into a spiral of further bad behavior that ends his run at glory.
Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien ("Rounders," "The Girlfriend Experience") from Koppelman's screenplay and produced by Steven Soderbergh, "Solitary Man" has a pedigree which has you rooting for its success from the moment the theater darkens. But this tale of a man who's a constant disappointment to everyone around him is generally disappointing itself.
Douglas has enough innate charisma to make the used car dealer clichés he's saddled with faintly sparkle from time to time, but smarminess, an implausible script conceit and the carousel narrative inevitably lose the audience. With such a great cast, it's a shame that Sarandon's time is largely wasted in the background, Parker is underutilized and Fischer demonstrates a general lack of emotional gravitas to come off as much beyond whiney. Without strong visuals or a real story arc, this film is a lemon.