"Nothing personal," seems to be Ben Kalmen's mantra - which is why he can't seem to understand that people take his actions at more than face value.
In Solitary Man, written and directed by the team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien and opening Friday (5/21/10) in limited release, Kalmen is played by Michael Douglas with exactly the kind of roguish charm that Douglas has perfected over the course of his career.
Ben isn't a ne'er-do-well; rather, he's a formerly high-flying car dealer, someone whose empire of dealerships made him a minor celebrity, thanks to prevalent TV commercials that pitched him as the king of Long Island car moguls. But as the movie picks up his story, he's working hard at getting back on his feet.
Ben, you see, had a little problem with fraud that landed him in jail. Now he's out and trying to work his way back into the business. He's got a deal percolating that will put him right back in the game - with major money coming from his wife (Mary Louise Parker) and her father, a guy with big bucks and a long reach.
Just one problem: Ben is an irredeemable dog, who can't resist a come-on from a comely lass. That includes his stepdaughter, who cocks a finger in Ben's direction during a trip to look at colleges. When he gives in to temptation - which he always does - he reminds her that it's just our little secret - except that there's no such thing as a safe secret if more than one person knows it.
What follows are a series of crossroads for Ben - and at each one, Ben makes the easy choice. The tempting choice, as opposed to the tough choice. And, invariably, it's the wrong choice.
But Ben can't figure out why things keep going south for him. He's doing what he always did. It's just that his little game - that blend of wit, charm and caginess - has worn thin. Or worn itself out. Or worn out the people who used to be amused by it.
That includes his wife, his daughter from his first marriage (played with a touching blend of love and exasperation by Jenna Fischer), his first wife (Susan Sarandon) and just about everyone else in his life. He has burned them all at one point or another, usually more than once. Yet his remorse mostly is about getting caught, not about the pain he has inflicted.
This is a familiar story - except that, in most movies of this type, Ben's prison sentence would be the climax, instead of the beginning.