Ebenezer Scrooge is a piker compared to Oren Little, the lovably mean-spirited codger who’s redeemed in Rob Reiner’s “And So It Goes.” As fashioned by Mark Andrus and played by Michael Douglas, Oren is an irascible curmudgeon who positively enjoys making life miserable for those around him, wielding his waspish tongue in every direction as he marks time living in a Connecticut fourplex while going through the motions of selling the house he shared with his late, lamented wife at an exorbitant price before retiring to a remote place in Vermont. (Andrus is best known for the Oscar-nominated script for “As Good as It Gets,” which he co-wrote with James L. Brooks. With its narrative about the softening of an acerbic man, it serves as the obvious template here. This script, however, proves that lightning rarely strikes twice—and the previous picture’s title certainly doesn’t apply in this case.)
Oh, sure, Scrooge had to make amends with his nephew and the Cratchit family and give up his miserly ways. But Little has not only to have his heart melted by his sweet next-door neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton), an aging lounge singer who’s a widow herself, but to find her a better gig too. And he must not only reconnect with his long-estranged son Luke (Scott Shepherd) but take in Sarah (Sterling James), the ten-year old granddaughter he never knew he had, when Luke’s sent off to the pokey on a trumped-up charge. (Naturally Oren will see to his early release as well.) As if that weren’t enough, he also has to deal with the roadside mutt Luke and Sarah adopted—although he’d previously shot the dog with a paint gun to shoo it off his lawn. By the end of the picture Oren will even deliver the baby of a couple he used to feud with. It’s like watching Oscar the Grouch turn into Mister Rodgers in ninety minutes. And the change doesn’t require three ghosts.
Douglas does what he can with this sitcom caricature, but it’s a hopeless task that’s unbecoming for an actor who’s done some of his best work in recent years, on both the big and the small screens. The same can’t really be said for Keaton, who simply falls back on the customary delightful-ditzy shtick that’s been her stock-in-trade for years. The rest of the cast is pretty negligible, going through the requisite paces without making much of an impression one way or another, though it’s nice to see Frances Sternhagen again as Little’s equally aged colleague in their realty office, who gives as good as she gets in verbal tussles with him. Reiner himself shows up as Leah’s accompanist Artie, doing a bit of clumsy slapstick in a gag involving a slip-and-slide game, while the Jersey Boy himself, Frankie Valli, turns up as a nightclub owner who might hire Leah. The best thing one can say of him is that he doesn’t recite his lines in falsetto.
Reiner directs “And So It Goes” with the same slack, television-quality blandness that’s afflicted his work for the last two decades (curiously, his career behind the camera has fallen into two virtually equal parts—the first twenty years, from 1974 to 1994, being a span of almost magical success and the second twenty, beginning with “North,” one of nearly unmitigated disaster), and the technical quality, from Reed Morano’s cinematography through Ethan Tobman’s production design, has a small-screen odor too. Editor Dorian Harris had the unenviable task of trying to give some verve to the sequences the director and actors played lackadaisically, and Marc Shaiman didn’t find a way to compose a score that would add any punch to the formulaic goings-on.
To be fair, “And So It Goes” might find favor with senior viewers who could be amused by Oren’s cantankerousness. But it’s unlikely to attract an audience that goes across the age spectrum, and will probably disappear from theatres pretty fast. So if you have a mind to catch it on the big screen, do so quickly; after a couple weeks it’s probably going to be more like “And So It Went.”