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And So It Goes
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Shit Sandwich"
1 stars

What the hell happened to Rob Reiner? I have asked this question several times before and I fear that I will have opportunity to ask it again several times in the future but it is one that bears repeating. This is the guy who shifted from a successful acting career into directing and immediately launched one of the most incredible hot streaks of any filmmaker of our time. "This is Spinal Tap," "The Sure Thing," "Stand By Me," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "Misery," "A Few Good Men"--these were smartly conceived and wonderfully executed films that were brimming with humor, drama, interesting characters and any number of memorable scenes. Any one of these films would be the feather in the cap of most normal filmographies and to see him just pump them out one after another was an astonishment to behold. Even when he stumbled, as he did with the notorious "North," it was with a film that, for all of its numerous sins, was certainly never boring--the sheer weirdness of the entire enterprise made it a curiosity.

And yet, after the release of "The American President in 1995--a movie that I do not especially venerate, largely because of my general distaste for Aaron Sorkin's screenwriting but which does have its fans--he then hit a cold streak with a series of films of such jaw-dropping awfulness that it seemed almost impossible to believe that the guy who directed "This is Spinal Tap" could have had anything to do with them. "The Ghosts of Mississippi," "The Story of Us," "Alex & Emma," "Rumor Has It," "The Bucket List," "Flipped," "The Magic of Belle Isle"--if you are lucky, you have forgotten that most of the titles even exist and if you aren't, you can attest to the fact that they are some of the most awkward films of their era and filled with the kind of sitcommy contrivances, hackneyed situations and cliched characters that he had so effectively avoided earlier in his career.

The only positive thing that one could extract from this increasingly awful filmography was the sense that there was no way that he could do worse than something like the truly execrable "The Bucket List," even if he tried to do just that. Now Reiner has returned with his latest film, "And So It Goes," and while I don't think that he deliberately tried to do this--there is no evidence that he or anyone else involved with its production did anything that could fall under the loosest definition of the word "try"--he has somehow made a movie that is indeed worse than "The Bucket List" or anything else that he has done to date. This isn't just a bad movie--it is a total abdication of whatever passes for artistic expression on Reiner's part these days and the kind of disaster that is so thorough that the only way that it could possibly have what might conceivably pass for a happy ending would be if it were announced in the final reel that this year's Purge was about to begin.

Meet Oren Little (MIchael Douglas). Oren is a man of a certain age--somewhere between death and the typical CBS viewer--and is, to put it delicately, an asshole. He hates people, he hates animals and if that weren't bad enough, he is also a Realtor to boot. As the story opens, he is struggling to sell his former home, a palace that he refuses to part with for less than $8 million, and is ensconced at a crappy apartment complex that he owns until he finally unloads the joint. However, even though the film takes pains to presents his jackass bonafides, we somehow get the sense that there is more to him than just his overt loathsomeness. That is quickly proven when his estranged son, former junkie Kyle (Austin Lysy), turns up out of nowhere with a request--since he is going to be going to jail for the next few months (more about that later), would Oren mind watching Sarah (Sterling Jerins), the moppet granddaughter he never knew he had, until he gets out of the clink? Not unreasonably, Oren says no--he doesn't know the child and has no room for her anyway--but Kyle knows best and not only drops the urchin off on his father's doorstep, he also leaves behind a giant stray dog that he picked up on the road. In other words, despite Oren's strenuous efforts, he is only the second-biggest asshole in the film so far.

Meet Leah (Diane Keaton). Leah is a singer who, since the death of her beloved husband, finds it impossible to get through a performance at her regular gig at a local restaurant without talking at length about him and breaking into tears in the middle of seemingly every song she attempts. Leah is also another one of the residents of the apartment complex--she lives right next door to Oren, in fact--and naturally thinks that he is a big jerk and cannot stand anything about him. However, when she sees Sarah, her heart naturally melts and she winds up taking her into her own apartment and essentially serving as her live-in babysitter. Before long, she even begins to see Oren in a new light, especially after he inexplicably decides to take over the management of her musical career, although she is quick to find new fault with him whenever the plot requires some conflict to come up between them. However, she and Oren are so different from each other that there is no possible way that they could ever wind up together. Absolutely no possible way that could ever happen in a million years. In fact, if they were to somehow wind up together, it would almost seem as if they were stuck in the middle of a crappy and derivative screenplay that was beholden to the most familiar of screen cliches and which bore not even the slightest resemblance to anything close to what might be considered real life.

At this point, having heard most of the story particulars, some of you may be thinking to yourself "Hey, isn't this basically a thinly disguised ripoff of "As Good As It Gets"? Don't these people have any shame?" Well, the answer to the first question is "Yes"--though it should be pointed out that one of screenwriter Mark Andrus's previous credits was being one of the two credited writers of "As Good as it Gets"--and the answer to the second is "No--no they don't have any shame at all." Virtually every dramatic beat from that film is repeated here with only the barest minimum of changes but without any of the humor, pathos or believable characters that James L. Brooks evidently brought to that earlier project when he took a whack at the screenplay. Instead, Andrus just drops plot points into the mix in such a graceless manner that you can practically hear them go "thunk" and embroiders them with dialogue so hacky and forced that to call it sitcom-like would be an insult to sitcoms. In fact, it seems as if he took it as a personal challenge to bring together virtually every hoary cliche in the book--and even a few that you thought had been long since retired--and present them in the most lackadaisical and unimaginative manner imaginable.

There is not enough space here to cite all of the instances in which the screenplay seems to be going out of its way to be as awful as it can be, so I will merely select one and it involves the character of Oren's son. We discover early on that he has been a junkie and so, when we learn that he is going to jail, we just naturally assume that it for some drug-related crime. Oh no--he has been clean and sober for a while now and what he is really being imprisoned for is some improprieties related to his work in the financial sector. That is lame enough but the film then goes on to explain in excruciating detail about how he is actually completely innocent of the crime he pled guilty of and that he is practically a saint whose only real offense was simply being too pure, good and noble for his own good. Clearly Andrus and Reiner did this to make sure that audiences wouldn't be at all discomfited by any real unpleasantness but why introduce this aspect if they aren't going to really deal with it? As it turns out, it does come back in what may be the worst scene in a film filled with contenders for that title--the bit where Oren tracks down the girl's birth mother, takes her over to drop her off with the woman without actually meeting with her beforehand and only then discovering that she is a strung-out mess who cannot even stand on her own two feet. In theory, we are supposed to be heartened that the curmudgeonly Oren has chosen not to dump the kid in the hands of a zonked junkie but instead, all we can do is note with mounting distaste all the different ways in which the film is trying and failing to manipulate our emotions.

Okay, I will pick one more awkward aspect of the film and that is the whole subplot involving Leah's singing career and Oren's attempts at managing it as a way to get into her heart, among other places. Ignoring the fact that this entire thread is utterly superfluous, the running joke about her inability to get through a song without crying over the memory of her late husband is presumably meant to be both funny and poignant but actually comes across as merely pathetic. Things get even stupider when, after she takes Oren's advice to stop mentioning the dead husband in her between-song patter and to sing newer songs than the standards she has been doing ("newer" in this case being a 23-year-old Bonnie Raitt song), she becomes such a compelling performer that Oren is able to negotiate a $1500-a-week contract to sing at a local bistro. This is actually the funniest part of the film for two reasons. First, there is no way that a small bistro in a sleepy town is going to pay Diane Keaton $1500 a week to sing unless she is actually Diane Keaton and even then, that price seems a little questionable. Second, the bistro owner is played, inexplicably, by none other than Frankie Valli, meaning that despite the odds, he somehow managed to involved himself with a film project this summer even worse than "Jersey Boys."

Reiner handles this sorry material with an equally substandard directorial hand that has never been as weak as it is here--at this point, he has basically become Henry Jaglom with a larger budget and more famous friends inexplicably willing to sign on, no doubt as a favor or to settle some kind of debt. There is not one scene here that is executed an interesting manner--it has the look and feel of bad television and is paced so lethargically that it would multiple shots of pure adrenaline to jazz it up to the level of plodding. The whole thing is just a lazy hack job by a director who has clearly lost the fire he once possessed. Everything is pitched as broadly as possible so that no one runs the risk of missing anything and even at a mere 94 minutes, it feels as if it may never end. Oh yeah, Reiner also gives himself a small part as a piano player with a "hilariously" shoddy toupee who at one point trips and falls over a Slip n Slide and makes a fool of himself. My guess is that since he was already sporting an expression of pure shame and embarrassment every time he stepped behind the camera, he might as well get in front of the camera and get some use out of it.

To judge by the results, he has also encouraged his actors to sleepwalk through their paces as well. Michael Douglas has made a career of playing assholes but in most of those cases, he was able to make them into interesting and reasonably watchable assholes. Here, stuck with a character that barely contains a single dimension, he is unable to do much of anything other than disconcert viewers by looking and sounding more and more like his father. At least he has that, which is more than can be said for Diane Keaton, whose whiff rate these days is almost as prominent as Reiner's--how could any career survive the likes of "Because I Said So," "Mad Money," "Darling Companion" and "The Big Wedding"?--and who manages to lower her average here with perhaps the laziest and most irritating work of her career. Together, Douglas and Keaton strike so few sparks that what should have been a zingy comedy about two people of a certain age getting together instead comes across like a slightly more depressing version of "Amour."

"And So It Goes" is a truly awful movie and while I have made a certain degree of sport with it in the above review, I assure you that doing so gave me no real degree of pleasure. Even though Rob Reiner's stock has dropped precipitously in the last couple of decades, I have still gone into each of his films hoping that this would be the one where he would finally turn things around and make something that would at least begin to approximate the creativity and entertainment of his early works. After "And So It Goes," I have now pretty much given up on that ever happening. Even amidst one of the less inspiring summer movie lineups in a while, this thing is the absolute pits--a film so stupid and soul-crushing that it makes "Transformers 4" seem like a quiet and dignified exploration of the human condition by comparison.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26549&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/24/14 12:50:53
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User Comments

7/30/14 David It's a shame when good talent makes awful movies. 2 stars
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  18-Jul-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2014


  DVD: 18-Nov-2014

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