We've seen this story many times before, the one about the Grinchy old guy whose two-sizes-too-small heart receives emotional Valvoline from a sweet and innocent kid. (What? You missed Shirley Temple in "Heidi" and its kajillion remakes?)
Not only is Rob Reiner's Heidi-ho comedy "And So It Goes" as dull as dishwater, Michael Douglas' irritatingly abrasive main character changes personalities in a split second, just in time to become an emotionally straining ex-irritatingly abrasive main character.
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"And So It Goes"★ ★
Starring: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Frances Sternhagen, Rob Reiner, Sterling Jerins, Frankie Valli
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Other: A Clarius Entertainment release. Rated PG-13 for sexual references, drug references. 94 minutes
Douglas plays Oren Little, once a successful real estate agent, now a doozy of a boozer since the cancer death of his beloved wife. He'd like to dump his mansion home for a neat $8 million and relocate to Vermont.
In the meantime (and we mean mean-time), Oren hangs out at a lakeside four-plex building called "Little Shangri-La," verbally abusing the other tenants while waiting for a rich house buyer to magically appear.
Oren hates everybody, even dogs. We know this because the movie opens with Oren stopping his car to shoot a stray mutt with a yellow paint pellet. Yeah, that'll teach him!
One of his tenants, a perky, widowed lounge singer named Leah (Diane Keaton), calls Oren on his selfishness and insensitivity, prompting him to say, "Is what you're going to say really worth what I'm about to say back?"
(It's hard to imagine that these sitcom zingers come from screenwriter Mark Andrus, who snared an Oscar nomination for cowriting James L. Brooks' superbly comic romance "As Good As It Gets.")
The familiar plot kicks in when Oren's son, disheveled Luke (Scott Shepherd), shows up on his doorstep with a surprise package: a granddaughter Oren never knew he had.
Luke abruptly surrenders young Sarah (Sterling Jerins) to her bewildered grandfather. Luke has to spend some time in jail (don't worry, he's not a violent criminal) and needs someone to care for Sarah. Mommy, wherever she is, isn't capable of the job, Luke says.
Luke heads to the clinker, and Oren tries to pawn Sarah off on Leah, who already has her own troubles, such as not being able to get through a single song before breaking down in tears and sobbing. (Gee, no wonder she has trouble booking bigger gigs.)
"And So It Goes" goes through its so-so plot motions, blandly directed by Reiner (who also plays Leah's keyboard guy) without any of the crispness and dramatic sparks he brought to his earlier movies such as "Stand By Me," "Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally" and "A Few Good Men."
In recent years, Reiner appears to have run out of directorial gas with a series of disappointing generic endeavors, among them "Rumor Has It," "Flipped" and the magic-challenged "Magic of Belle Isle." Even his box office hit "The Bucket List" felt lifeless and strained.
Keaton and Douglas, both Oscar winners, have pumped the silver screen full of charisma many times before, but not here and not for these characters, something like daters of the lost AARP.
Perhaps the actors have recreated these same characters so many times now, they're operating on thespian autopilot, with Keaton rendering Leah as another insecure, slightly neurotic independent woman, and Douglas recycling Oren as another middle-aged train wreck trying to get back on track.
At least a cantankerous Frances Sternhagen pumps up the movie as Oren's comically caustic real estate pal who doesn't mince words.
"I'm the only friend you've got!" she says.
"I've found somebody who likes me, so you can die now!" Oren replies.
Cue the laugh track.