Michael Douglas is really good at being bad. He perfected it in his Oscar-winning “Wall Street” role as high stakes scammer Gordon Gekko, which he has repeated in his much-anticipated “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.”
But while we wait for the big “Money,” Douglas has surfaced with a low-budget gem, “Solitary Man.” Here, he is a scaled-down Gekko in Ben Kalmen, a bad-news businessman, whom Douglas also portrays to perfection.
Divorced and trying to reverse a major financial nosedive, Kalmen was once known as “the tristate area’s only honest car salesman.” That was then. This is now. Kalmen is still “honest,” in that he is forthright in his near-psychotic determination to “screw” everything and everyone in sight, particularly young women, a third his age. One is the 18-yearold Allyson Karsch (Imogen Poots), the daughter of his current girlfriend, Jordan Karsch (Mary-Louise Parker), as well as the daughter of a zoning official, essential to a pending Kalmen auto dealership deal.
Kalmen escorts Allyson to his college alma mater where, after a tussle with a security guard, he introduces her to his former friend, the dean, for an acceptance interview. Ben then parties with naïve student Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg), ogling co-eds before finding his way back to Allyson, who soon finds herself in his bed.
Ben’s bad behavior knows no bounds. He eventually hurts just about everyone in his path, including himself. What’s amazing is how some maintain their affection for him, namely, his daughter, Susan (Jenna Fischer); college buddy, Jimmy Marino (Danny DeVito); and ex-wife, Nancy (Susan Sarandon). Nancy, in fact, offers to take him back, when she sees him sitting on a bench after hitting bottom with no place to go.
The only explanation is: movie-star charisma. How else do guys like Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges of “Crazy Heart”) and Hud (Paul Newman of “Hud”) and Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas of “Solitary Man”) get away with it?