Somewhere, Billy Joel is cringing. While the title of Rob Reiner’s “And So It Goes” seems intended as take-it-on-the-chin affirmation of life’s inevitable detours and potholes, the movie itself feels like a surrender — to the kind of geriatric burlesque that increasingly seems to be the only game in town for A-list stars of Social Security age. Rivaling headliner Michael Douglas’ recent altacocker ensembler “Last Vegas” in its quantity of arthritic slapstick and tearjerking platitudes, this independently financed reunion project for the actor and his “American President” director is being positioned by upstart distrib Clarius as an alternative to the summer’s comicbook blockbusters. But “And So It Goes” will need a Viagra-sized box office miracle to come anywhere near the niche success of the recent “Parental Guidance” ($77 million) and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” ($46 million), to say nothing of Reiner’s own “The Bucket List” ($93 million).
Screenwriter Mark Andrus, who earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing James L. Brooks’ “As Good As It Gets,” has mined more than a bit of Jack Nicholson’s cantankerous curmudgeon from that film (minus the OCD) for Douglas’ Oren Little, a formerly high-flying Connecticut real-estate agent who’s turned sour and booze-swilling in the decade since losing his wife to cancer. When we first meet him, Oren is trying to unload his own palatial Fairfield estate before retiring to Vermont — a turn of events that would please no one more than the fellow tenants of the lakeside fourplex where Oren has taken up residence while waiting for the right buyer to come along. They include widowed lounge singer Leah (Diane Keaton), who chides Oren for his selfishness and insensitivity (to his fellow man, small children and even stray dogs), but whose ultimate destiny with the character is, like most things about “And So It Goes,” hopelessly obvious from the start.
Andrus and Reiner (who directs in canned, sitcom rhythms) draw on Douglas’ own troubled relationship with son Cameron to give Oren an estranged adult son (Scott Shepherd), who turns up out of the blue on the eve of a nine-month prison sentence (on trumped-up SEC charges) and asks Oren to take care of 10-year-old Sarah (Sterling Jerins), the granddaughter he didn’t know he had. And from there, you can just about set your watch by the amount of time it will take for Oren’s shriveled-up heart to enlarge by the requisite two sizes — though not before he first tries to foist the moppet off on her birth mother, an ill-advised episode that detours the film through a most unconvincing junkie underworld seemingly imported from a very special episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.”
Douglas, who did some of the best work of his career playing bottomed-out middle-aged losers in “Wonder Boys” and the tragically underseen “Solitary Man,” here serves mainly as a wind-up comic-insult machine, whenever the character isn’t being confronted by such exotic pop-culture phenomena as Facebook and “Duck Dynasty.” Keaton fares somewhat better in an equally one-dimensional role, playing a gloss on her high-strung, lovelorn neurotic from Nancy Meyers’ “Something’s Gotta Give.” Mostly, it’s a pleasure to watch the leggy, silver-haired actress onstage, gently crooning her way through a hit parade of Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Huesen and Rodgers & Hart standards, even if the movie makes too much of a recurring gag about her inability to make it through a song without bursting into tears. (Reiner himself cameos as Keaton’s piano man, while Frankie Valli pops up as a potential employer.)
Watching “And So It Goes,” it’s hard not to imagine what a richer, more sophisticated, and finally more human affair the late Paul Mazursky — or even the Reiner of earlier days — could have made from this same basic arrangement of elements. But Mazursky wasn’t much in demand of late and neither, it seems, are grown-up relationship movies where real feeling ever risks rupturing the anodyne surface. Whenever the film feels like it might be on the verge of such a turn, it reliably opts for the cheap punch line or easy pathos. For all of its 93 minutes, you never feel anything significant is at stake for anyone — save for a paycheck.